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Three, two, one: your college days are done

Gary Caruso | Thursday, September 15, 2011

A universal axiom contends that students leave college with an equal amount of wisdom in proportion to the efforts they exerted while on campus. Consequently, it would follow that a collegiate weekend beer binge-drinker will at best become a managerial dirty martini guzzler while the geeky, library-loving homework nerd at worst will cure cancer.

Fortunately, such fallacy is as obvious each year as another lost wide-eyed freshman aimlessly wandering about the quads on the first day of classes. Yet, one maxim does ring true: Each of us, to better appreciate and relish our campus experiences, can consciously slow time during our academic years.

Ask any of last spring’s newly minted alumni, and nearly all of them will admit their senior year and graduation day pounced upon them with unbelievable speed. Many chide themselves for their dalliances that prevented them from most appreciating their surroundings. Regardless of how often you log Facebook entries or blog updates to document your fun, your college years zoom forgetfully along unless you purposefully pause to drink in every moment.

Savoring a semester can ultimately seem like the seven-year college stint Ryan Reynolds portrayed in the movie, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. In fact, during my second semester of senior year, I slowed time through such a technique. Even now, at class reunions held light years from our waning days at Notre Dame, I still vividly remember moments from those final four months of college that my dormitory classmates cannot recall.

The best advice anyone can offer students during their first two weeks of an autumn semester is to prolong that short-lived, exaggerated openness they briefly offer to others. Typically, after the beginning two weeks of a new semester, many limit their offers of BFF-dom in favor of a comfort zone that hunkers down with a few friends. Ultimately, such consolation gives birth to stagnant semester routines. Rather, constantly purvey new friendships throughout the corners of campus.

The annals of Notre Dame history are cluttered with many a depressed graduate who left our Catholic Disneyland cocoon unprepared for the transition into the real world. Avoid such perverse future trauma by refusing to limit your eagerness to initiate new friendships beyond the start of each school year. While grasping personal moments of fun — as well as anguish — continually make new friendships throughout the entire semester to best realize your unique moment in time.

In many ways, Notre Dame mimics the boarding school setting of the epic film “Dead Poets Society” in which Robin Williams encourages his students, “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” Traditionally, our campus community atmosphere fosters a grace of civility and standard of tolerance. Administrators seek to highlight the importance of building real, open relationships while passionately seeking the truth.

In Horace’s Latin poem, the phrase used in the movie originates from part of the longer passage: “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero — Seize the day, putting as little trust as possible in the future.” At Notre Dame, however, your “carpe diem” should strive to make each living second hauntingly and extraordinarily memorable to better your future. Focus on your intimate laughter and torment while hearing the whispers from the phantoms of ages long gone who lived similar campus experiences.

Throughout scores of Notre Dame semesters, similar young faces have repeated like-minded rituals. Teenagers just like you helped settle the University’s frontier site with Fr. Sorin. A generation later, others your same age avoided the Civil War ravages while studying alongside Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman’s children. Students — who paradoxically could have just as easily been you but for the random birth of their generations — rode with the Four Horsemen during Rockne’s days, dropped out of school to die defending our nation in World War II and barely graduated before conscribed to ultimately die in Vietnam during a war nobody thought was worth a damn. Their blood is in the bricks around you.

These precious first few days of each fall semester are full of so much promise and optimism. Students can make new lifetime friendships, live independently and cheer the football team onward to victory while learning limitless classroom facts along with the limitations on drinking beer at the bars. This year’s freshmen will learn — like all of us before them and all of those who will follow — that each living day on earth offers the same opportunities available to them during their first day on campus.

If life mimicked fiction, we could relive our last eight minutes to correct our mistakes like the premise behind the recent movie, “Source Code.” Unfortunately, we are not trapped within our own source codes doomed to repeat our last eight minutes, nor are we forever attending college like the fictional Van Wilder. The opening of each school year is a snapshot of life that only occurs four times during an undergraduate career. Grab it. Breathe it. Scrutinize it and burn it into your minds as the countdown continues to the end of your college days. But do not blink. The clock is already ticking.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ‘73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. He can be contacted at GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu

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