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The secret handshake

Karen Langley | Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I applied to Notre Dame on a whim, intrigued by a couple youth group friends’ near-devotional tones when I said I didn’t see myself at a “big Midwestern football school.”

(“But it’s Notre Dame!” said one twin. “Maybe we need to show her Rudy again,” said his brother.)

I was accepted to Notre Dame on a prayer, smitten with the place during a hasty late-March visit just days before Admissions mailed its envelopes.

And so, on one chilly August day nearly four years ago, I arrived as a student at Notre Dame. I had no idea who the guys were whose signs claimed their dorm had been “housing your daughters since 1937,” no clue how to fit my belongings into the tiny triple I was to share with strangers, and no concept of the long-nurtured devotion many of my fellow freshmen brought to the school.

(I began to suspect the extent of that loyalty when my roommate told of how her parents had met at a Farley dorm party three floors above our new room.)

On that rainy orientation weekend almost four years ago, nearly two thousand freshman arrived at Notre Dame from each U.S. state and countries around the world. Some of us come from historic Notre Dame legacies and spent our first autumn Saturdays toddling around campus in miniature cheerleader outfits. Notre Dame was in our blood.

Some of us planned and strove for years to become the first from our families to attend Notre Dame. Notre Dame was in our dreams.

And some of us stumbled across this University at just the right time. For us, Notre Dame was an unexpected blessing.

Years later, we’ve finished our undergraduate careers at this mid-sized college in northern Indiana. We’ve walked this meticulously maintained campus to and from lectures and exams, dorm parties and SYRs, matches and meetings and Masses. We’ve been given time to forge our own identities at a University that’s always considering its own. Whether we support or critique Notre Dame’s policies and practices, many of us have found inspiration in its best and boldest claims – that faith and reason can be mutually supportive; that serving others is not only a responsibility but a privilege; and that we are called to use our educations to bring positive change to the world.

We came here from many paths and places, but as one of my favorite professors once said, come graduation, we’ll all be Notre Dame alumni doing the secret handshake.

This weekend, as I listen for my name to be called, I’ll listen also for those of the friends with whom I pulled all-nighters cramming for the big exam, plotted surprise birthday parties, pushed toward dawn talking over our lives and put out hundreds of issues of The Observer. I’ll listen for the names of those with whom I traveled by car to Ann Arbor, by plane to Dublin, by train across Morocco and by boat to the Caribbean. Even if I hadn’t fallen for Notre Dame, I’d do it all again just to know them.

And when we meet again, whether at the Backer next fall or in some far-flung locale, we’ll give each other the secret handshake.

Karen Langley is graduating with a degree in English and minors in Anthropology and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She will begin an internship at the Philadelphia Inquirer two weeks after graduation and hopes to find a permanent reporting job before the summer’s end. She would like to thank her parents for their untiring love and their support of an education as pricey as a small boat, Patrick for choosing Notre Dame and Michael for being not only her brother but her best friend. She would also like to thank the Farley girls, the Dublin Program and The Observer staff for the often quirky, sometimes ill-advised and always defining times and the unforgettable friendships.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.