No choice but to grow up
Mike Collins | Thursday, November 21, 2013
The basement of Cavanaugh Hall could use a makeover because it doesn’t look much different than it did 50 years ago today. I know because I was studying in the basement at mid-day, the only one there, when a bulletin came on the Motorola radio that had been left on in the assistant rector’s small office: President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.
I don’t think there was or has been since a day in my life, especially that long ago, where the next few hours and the weekend that followed have stayed with me with such resonance.
Maybe there was a gene in me that eventually led to a career in journalism, but my first reaction was to rush out of the basement to the first floor and beat on the door of our rector, Fr. Matthew Miceli (he just recently passed away) and then up to my room 251 to tell anyone around what I had just heard. Suddenly, you could hear radios being turned on one after another, as if my dorm mates thought what I was telling them had to be a mistake. I wished the same, but we all knew within a matter of minutes, that it was not.
Cavanaugh was an all-freshmen hall back then and the school calendar was a lot different as well. We had barely been on campus two months by Nov. 22, many of us still unsure if we had made the right choice or if we were prepared for the rigors of a Notre Dame education. Some things don’t change.
At first, the University decided to keep everything business as usual, but the decision was a failure. Instead of students going to class, many of those already in a class just left so they could get back to their dorms and gather around the lone television, like the one we had in the basement of Cavanaugh. And it wasn’t too long, with the room packed, when Walter Cronkite broke in with the news, his voice choking, that JFK was dead. Classes were cancelled, within hours the final football game of a terrible season was also cancelled. No one cared. The only thing we could think to do seemed to be unanimous, one by one, dozens by dozens, we left our dorms and went to Sacred Heart Church and prayed through our tears.
Right or wrong, many of us believed in the JFK Camelot because of our pride in having the first Catholic to be elected President and his call to young Americans to serve their country in many different ways. Suddenly, we felt important, and even more suddenly, it felt as if our hopes and dreams had been quashed.
Two days later we poured back into the basement of Cavanaugh to watch the live coverage of Lee Harvey Oswald being led to his arraignment. When the shots rang out from Jack Ruby’s gun, there was stunned silence. Our adolescence was over, we knew now there was a real world out there, and sometimes it is very difficult to understand. We would have no choice but to grow up.
Mike Collins graduated from Notre Dame in the class of 1967. Tomorrow, he will complete his 32nd year as public address announcer at Notre Dame Stadium.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.