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Prolonging your semester’s adventures

Gary J. Caruso | Thursday, September 5, 2013

Melding Rosh Hashanah this week with the start of the academic year not only heralds the upcoming Jewish New Year of 5774, but also offers students an opportunity to discover how to savor each new semester moment without relying on Snapchat, Vine, Instagram or our digital devices. Is it possible to force time to crawl while permanently imprinting for a lifetime your laughs, loves or languishing moments without a personal iCloud to store those memories? Think of last weekend’s football game, for example. How much of your experience has been already forgotten or muddled into a collective memory, a “football game day” jumbled mindset?
I can vividly remember many second-semester senior year moments because I vowed to concentrate while relishing the final moments of my final student campus existence by living at a slow-motion snail’s pace. During that lone semester, I latched onto my life like a Dementor’s kiss consuming a soul. Unfortunately, it was not until preparing for this column that I could recall my first home football experience in Notre Dame Stadium, which in those days began late – Sept. 20. More to the point, the only game I routinely remember from my freshman year is the tie with the University of Southern California. While standing dead center of the end zone above the tunnel as time expired, I watched an Irish field goal attempt hit the upright and bounce away. It was such a nothing feeling that I never forgot that moment nor the final score: Notre Dame 14, USC 14.
 How well one preserves life’s memories depends upon one’s understanding of life. Every autumn, freshmen who know nothing lose their way on campus. Sophomores – who believe they know everything simply because they are no longer freshmen – strut in with an immature, cocky mindset. Seniors, who are the royalty on campus, merely do what they want before they either prematurely retire with a case of senioritis or just do not care anymore. Consequently, it is the junior class that actually owns the campus and is best equipped to encounter and ultimately appreciate its campus adventures.
 Too often in life, our surroundings and relationships go underappreciated until we lose a loved one or end a particularly enjoyable era. More importantly, how often do we settle into a routine that becomes possessive of our souls and consumes our time? Campus life at “Catholic Disneyland” is no different than any other place or time in the real world. It is only more restrictive if you let it be off-putting. It can be an unforgettable time if you embrace diversity, seeking out those who are different than you and who own differing opinions.
 Each new school year only provides an open window of about three weeks for students to easily and overtly seek new acquaintances. Before your semester habits calcify into sterile mindless practices, sit in a different section of the dining hall or simply introduce yourself to someone who appears interesting or atypical. With little effort, and certainly without help from the Google Glass optical head-mounted display or various smartphone apps, everyone can meet anyone. Most importantly, on campus, everyone represents a lifetime of walking, breathing poetry or prose.
 Sometimes the most rewarding relationships in life begin with the most accidental and unintentional introductions. I recall my first freshman day on campus meeting fellow Lyons Hall resident, Steve Pallucca: The guy who became my best college friend. Stevie passed away five years ago. His family owned a grocery store in Kansas and thus he looked (but also acted humorously) like John Belushi. Ironically, he arrived in the late afternoon just as we third-floor freshmen were about to caravan to the dining hall. “Oh, just in time for the fat boy to go to dinner,” I thought as I first laid eyes on my rotund rascal of a roommate.
 With my Notre Dame campus days behind me – some might say long gone, but I disagree while clutching my vivid recollections – and my perspective of the Golden Dome now seen through my rearview mirror, life never appears so short as when you look back upon it while regretting lost time.
Yet, ultimately, time passes all of us. That is why grasping onto the upcoming semester and school year with gusto assures you of rewarding moments, which become emblazoned as cherished memories. It also assures you that you have not overlooked a friend’s tear or missed the pleasure of your roommate’s zany antics. Nothing in today’s instant internet age can replace your conscious, deliberate memory preservation process.
 So while the countdown clock closes on your college career, regardless of how much time remains, it is never too late to better hone your senses on our diverse and timeless world. Nobody thought back when I first met Stevie that my embrace on life would someday lead to greeting the Notre Dame community with a Jewish wish for a good year, “L’shanah tovah.”

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. 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.