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Seniors reflect on their brief four-year stay

Emma Driscoll | Wednesday, May 14, 2008

When they first came to Notre Dame, seniors brought with them ideas of what to expect from the school and a few concerns about the experiences to come.

“I was afraid that I was going to be a little fish in a big pond,” senior Michael Schaefer said. However, he found that dorm life made the transition to college easier and allowed him to meet people and find a “sense of community.”

“I remember as a freshman, [Dillon Hall] did such a good job of having us go to the pep rallies together and play sports together,” he said.

The reputation of Notre Dame’s science department and the atmosphere of campus drew senior Julio Noriega to the school. As a South Bend resident, Noriega also said the fact that Notre Dame attracts students nationally and internationally appealed to him.

“I was very excited about being with people from all fifty states and twenty countries,” he said.

Tim Luebbert anticipated a good football season, along with friends that would be influential in his life.

“I expected to meet good people who could … be a moral foundation, ethical foundation for the rest of my life,” Luebbert said.

Surprises and Challenges

As they made their way through Notre Dame, seniors encountered surprising and challenging experiences both inside and outside of the classroom.

Noriega said after attending a diverse public high school, it felt strange to be in an environment that was less diverse. In terms of academics, students and professors impressed Noriega as well.

“Academically, I was really surprised by how smart people are here,” he said. He added that he was generally surprised by the friendliness of professors.

Many seniors had heard about the spirit of the Notre Dame community before attending the school, and this has continued through their college experience.

Andrew Hartnett said the sense of community makes students feel part of something bigger than themselves.

“There really is kind of a pervading spirit in this place,” he said.

Schaefer said the Notre Dame community stems further than campus.

“Even if you’re away from Notre Dame and you see someone wearing Notre Dame stuff, you can automatically have a 10-minute conversation,” he said.

Luebbert has been consistently taken aback by “how aggressive alumni are with getting to you know you.”

“Every football game [alumni] stopped by our room. Freshman year, somebody left a case of beer outside our room and said ‘I used to live here, have a good time,'” he said.

Many seniors agree that finding time to take advantage or all Notre Dame has to offer has been challenging.

“There’s so many amazing things going on here, so many ways that you can fill a day,” Hartnett said.

“The challenge would have been to make sure I was trying new things and trying to get new experiences both inside and outside of Notre Dame,” Schaefer said.

Finding a place at Notre Dame

Since Notre Dame can at times be an overwhelming experience, some seniors have found particular quiet places on campus that have become important to them.

Schaefer said one of his favorite locations on campus is near the lakes, near Carroll Hall, where the dome is visible while he is running.

For Hartnett, the chapel in his residence Dillon Hall has become very important.

“It’s just always been there, always right there down the hall,” he said.

Alicia Burtner said the courtyard in Bronson Hall has become one of her favorites because there are not usually many people there.

One of Luebbert’s favorite places is the center of Notre Dame Avenue, from which one can see four statues perfectly lined up, including Mary on the top of the Dome.

“One step to the right or left, you feel off balance,” he said.

Noriega said when he needs a break from the dorm or from studying at night, he usually walks up to the Fieldhouse Mall.

“I don’t really know why. It’s pretty well lit, I just sit down there for a while, maybe make a phone call,” he said.


As they look back over the last several years, seniors remember important moments with family and friends.

Moran said one of her favorite moments was rushing Stonehenge after the UCLA game this past football season. She also remembered learning the dance to “Newsies” one night freshman year with one of her friends.

One of the memories that Hartnett recalled was a break during finals or study days during his freshman year. It was the first heavy snowfall of the year, and New Englander Hartnett was told to come outside for a snowball fight with some of his friends from warmer Latin American countries.

“They were bundled up like marshmallows, throwing chunks of snow,” he said. “It was a blast.”

Schaefer said a trip to the dunes last fall was one of the highlights of his college experience, along with a visit by some of his friends from home sophomore year. He said it was great to share a Notre Dame football game with someone from back home.

Noriega remembered meeting his roommate for the first time and the initial awkwardness that has now become humorous. He said they both had very different personalities, which made their relationship funny at first.

“Our first few days together were awkward as usual, but hysterical as well,” he said.

Noriega also said he has enjoyed his birthday every year as well because since freshman year, his friends have celebrated with a party they call ‘Juliopalooza.’ The tradition started after Winter break freshman year, which has made it especially important to Noriega.

“It’s really funny, just having a birthday with kids I had only known for a semester. In some ways, we’ve all done that for each other,” he said. “It’s humbling to know how happy your friends can make you feel by celebrating your birthday.”


Whether or not students are Catholic, Notre Dame’s Catholic identity has had an impact on the experiences of seniors and influenced their spirituality.

“Being at Notre Dame and being independent for the first time in my life, I actually grew a lot closer to God,” Schaefer said.

He said the people that he met at Notre Dame helped him to develop a more personal relationship with God.

Hartnett foresees the faith that he has developed at Notre Dame remaining important long after graduation.

“It’s quieter, but it’s stronger,” Hartnett said. “It’s definitely become not just something I do, but definitely an aspect of who I am and sort of a foundation that, moving forward, life decisions will be based on.”

For Burtner, who is not Catholic, Notre Dame’s Catholic identity caused her to struggle at times. She said she was not always sure whether or not she was allowed to join certain clubs and activities that had a Catholic component.

“I wish I had known [clubs] don’t actually care if you’re Catholic,” she said.