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Tradition never graduates

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Two years ago, students were handed out white towels at the football game against Michigan State which read, “Tradition Never Graduates.” The intention was to raise morale about that team and show that Notre Dame would produce a winner, regardless of how many record-setting seniors had graduated the previous spring, because we had a tradition of doing just that. Well, we all know how that season turned out, and none of us that sat through it have any intention of revisiting it, but it does raise an interesting discussion about the role tradition plays on campus, and how it affects every student.

If you were to ask any person who had ever stepped foot on campus to describe Notre Dame in one word, my guess is that “traditional” would be one of the most commonly given answers. Much of life here hasn’t changed at all from a generation ago, or even further. The Golden Dome on top of the Main Building still shines in the sun, the quads are still impeccably landscaped and all of the buildings, even the new ones, are all still made out of brick and limestone, in the same mold as the ones that have been around for over a century. Students still participate in dorm Mass on Sundays, eat in the dining halls, and stay up all night doing schoolwork that they probably could have done earlier.

And all of these things are wonderful things. These common experiences are the things that connect all Domers to one another, regardless of graduation year, major, dorm or dining hall preference (even though everyone knows South is better). The sense of spirit and community on campus is Notre Dame’s major attraction, the one that distinguished it, at least in my eyes, from all other schools. And maybe that connection why alumni always flock back to this place as a though it is a second home. Sometimes walking though campus on a fall afternoon is like walking through a time capsule.

But within this lies a challenge, perhaps the biggest challenge we face as a university community. Unlike campus, the world we live in is not static, it is dynamic. And not only is the world changing, it is changing at a faster rate than it ever has before. It is in this way that we must look at our traditions not as a restraint, but rather as a unique advantage. Doing so might require a leap of faith. How can parietals and single-sex dorms possibly be seen as an advantage in the world today? They can if you look at the big picture. Traditions go beyond just the draconian rules, or goofy Frosh-O rituals that every dorm does. The traditions of faith, service and scholarship are what Notre Dame holds dear, and no matter how much the world changes, those will never go out of style.

Sure, some may point out Notre Dame’s unapologetic affiliation with the Catholic Church as a reason that it can never be a truly elite academic institution. But who says that the two can’t exist together? Spirituality is a key pillar in the Notre Dame experience, and graduates are sure to come out not only as excellent students, but also as excellent people. Why shouldn’t we embrace that.

So here is the challenge for our University community. Let’s continue to excel at what we do, but let us adapt it to the ever changing world in which we live. If the administration deems that the future of academic excellence is in research, then we should build institutions that allow us to do just that. Since the world is becoming more connected, we should continue to send student overseas to study abroad in record numbers, like we are now. Many elite universities have no real core ideology, but our goal should be to prove to the world that the traditions of this place can stand the test of time, and that we can still make a difference in the world based on a centuries-old experience of faith, service, and high-level academics.

So before you bemoan your late-night sludge through the snow (unfortunately, another time-honored Notre Dame tradition) to the dining hall, before you dive into a never-ending stack of homework and before you go to Mass this Sunday with your dorm mates, realize that nights like these are what connects you to Domers from generations past. And, as any alum will tell you, the experience we have here is what will shape us for the rest of our lives, regardless of the outside world.

Andy Ziccarelli is a civil engineering major. He can be contacted at aziccare@nd.edu

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