Mia Lillis | Tuesday, January 14, 2014
When I first stepped foot on this campus three and a half years ago, I had every intention to transfer out within the year. In my head, I had a clear vision of what I wanted out of my college experience: lots of partying, resources facilitating an exploration of religious and/or spiritual beliefs and a campus in which I could wear whatever I want without receiving double takes (among other things).
Notre Dame was not at all the campus that would offer any of these things, and this was extremely clear within my first 24 hours here. Notre Dame’s du Lac set up strict standards of behavioral expectations on campus, which seemed to leave no room for the wild ragers I had pictured myself attending for four years. The Catholic identity of Notre Dame was pervasive throughout the campus, and any sign of a non-Catholic community was completely invisible at that point. And of course, in Freshman Orientation, we had a strict, uniform display of compulsive dorm pride. The Frosh-O t-shirts disappeared after a few days, but the uniform of campus did not.
Perhaps it was the homogeneity in background of Notre Dame students, but I found that the 4,000 men and 4,000 women of this campus ubiquitously possessed an eerily similar sense of fashion, and anyone who deviated from this norm was immediately noticeable, such as the “girl with blue hair” or the “guy with dreadlocks.”
In short, Notre Dame was not what I pictured my college years looking like. The adjustment from my expectations to reality was a difficult one, exacerbated by the shell-shock of being displaced from an extremely progressive city to an arguably conservative bubble campus. And yet, not everything about Notre Dame was terrible. I was fortunate to have been randomly placed with freshman roommates who shared comparable disillusionment with Notre Dame. My resident assistant during my freshman year was incredibly supportive of all her freshman, from the most “Domed-out” to the most willing to transfer tomorrow.
These first relationships on this campus were pivotal for me, and gradually I realized that while perhaps I shared little in common with the majority of campus, such differences did not preclude the ability to form deep, long-lasting relationships with the students here. By the time my freshman year spring break came around, I found myself excited to return to campus — to my clubs, to my friends and to Cavanaugh.
As a senior, I have been asked multiple times what I would do if I could rewind time. If I could go back and do it again, would I still have attended Notre Dame, would I still have stayed here instead of transferring? It is certainly a difficult question to answer, especially when I hear about the experiences my friends have on other campuses — their schedules consisting of a class exploring the history of socialism in the world of science, followed by a quick bout of surfing, followed by a wine and cheese discussion of the Upanishads. When faced with stories of what I perceived to be my college dream, it is easier to lean towards a “no.”
But the truth is, Notre Dame affected me in a way that I believe no other campus could have. A good friend who is an avid video gamer liked to compare attending to Notre Dame to playing a video game on “hard mode,” and it is precisely that for many people in many ways. However, playing anything on easy mode does nothing in terms of character development, in terms of finding a sense of self, in terms of building strength and fortitude. The Lord calls us to take up the cross that he has given us, not because it is easy, but because it is worth it. Notre Dame has been worth it for me. Notre Dame has given me the ability to communicate, relate to and love individuals whose beliefs differ starkly from my own. Notre Dame has challenged me to go the extra mile, to work to find the social opportunities I wished to experience, and if they did not already exist, to create them. Above all, Notre Dame has filled me with a deep commitment to social justice, to fighting the “good fight,” to actively working to eradicate injustice within our society to the best of my ability.
I know that this story is not particularly unique. I know that a great deal of students have experienced this complicated relationship with our campus. It is okay to dislike Notre Dame. It is okay to feel like you don’t belong here. It is okay to have a college dream that differs from this reality. But sometimes, life has a way of providing you not at all what you want, but exactly what you need.