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Never the same

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, May 14, 2009

It’s hard to imagine life after Notre Dame.

The great honor of my life has been being a student at this University, the only school I ever wanted to attend. For two years in high school, I kept a Notre Dame magnet in my locker, reminding myself before every test, every project, that my goal was to live under the Dome for four years.

And I’ve done that. But in my last semester at college, I’ve been asking myself why I didn’t major in architecture, or do a double major, anything to give myself just a little more time, a few more months or years to soak up Notre Dame.

Because it’s hard to imagine life without some of my best friends a few steps away from me, ready to talk at noon or 3 a.m., about nothing or everything.

It’s hard to imagine life without a DeBartolo Hall, a Waddick’s, The Huddle, the popcorn machine in CoMo.

It’s hard to imagine life without football Saturdays, without complaining about The Shirt, then wearing it, without Knights of Columbus steak sandwiches, without brats, without dorky dorm cheers, without the Notre Dame Victory March, without push-ups after touchdowns.

It’s hard to imagine life without Reckers, without Nick’s Patio, without Piano Man, without $3 cab rides, without The Backer, without Corby’s, without Finnegan’s.

It’s hard to imagine a life without parietals, without Mass in every dorm, without candlelight dinners.

It’s hard, because I hoped, irrationally, that my four years at Notre Dame would go on forever. Of course, I always knew that one day it would end, but I didn’t think the time would go so quickly.

“I don’t think there’s any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually,” said Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary of labor, in reaction to President Kennedy’s death. “I guess that we thought we had a little more time.”

I thought I had more time. On a hot August day earlier this year, after running around the lakes, I sat on South Quad and willed the time to slow down. I willed the days to go by slowly, but of course, time marched on, and soon the first of the lasts – the last first day of class, the last home football game, the last Christmas dinner at the dining hall – gave way to the last of the lasts – the last Spring Break, the last day of class, the last week of final exams.

“It will never be the same again,” a friend of mine said at dinner a few months ago. We were talking about whether, years after we graduated, we would still be able to reunite, to come back to Notre Dame and pick up where we left off.

No, it will never be the same. When we come back, we won’t be in the Notre Dame bubble. We’ll be outside, looking in, probably wanting to return.

As I’ve savored the very last of the lasts, I’ve tried to tell myself that maybe that’s okay.

Maybe it’s okay that I’m moving on. I’ve given Notre Dame my all – my 4 a.m. finals nights at the library, my 20-page papers, my late nights at The Observer that I thought would never end – and Notre Dame has given me its all – a beautiful campus that takes my breath away every time I drive up Notre Dame Avenue, a world-class education, professors who have inspired me, a dorm filled with lifelong friends and an experience in London that I’ll never forget.

Notre Dame has made me a person who, I hope, will go out and do good things for this world.

But on Sunday, my school is going to break my heart. I’ll receive my diploma, walk up the stairs of the Main Building, and nevermore be able to call myself a Notre Dame student.

The only solace is that, though Notre Dame undergrad doesn’t last forever, memories do, and here, I’ve made memories that will stay with me long after I’ve left 46556.

A friend of mine told me Father Hesburgh gave her advice about what to do before leaving Notre Dame.

Go to the Grotto, he said, say a prayer, and promise you’ll be back.

Notre Dame, I promise I’ll be back.

Kaitlynn Riely is graduating with a major in American Studies and a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She will be taking a position at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the summer. She would like to thank her parents, who have made everything possible and her five younger siblings, for listening enthusiastically to four years of college stories. She would also like to thank all the Pangborn girls, without whom college would never have been so much fun, and give a special thanks to Observer writers and staffers, past and present, who defined my Notre Dame career.

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