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A long walk under the Dome

| Monday, February 17, 2014

At the President’s Dinner on Junior Parents Weekend, Father Jenkins said Junior Parents Weekend only served as a reminder to parents that “this is a four-seasons school.” Laughing politely with the crowd at the comfortable and familiar joke about the weather, I didn’t realize how deeply that sentiment would actually resonate with me.

We were reminded constantly during the weekend that Junior Parents Weekend is the beginning of the end. Parents were informed that we are now old, wise adults preparing for graduation, tycoons of maturity, education and worldliness. We are certainly not the doe-eyed babes of that sparkling, mystical freshman year of college. We are so far removed from two years ago when we were the mere apprentices of the new. But what they forgot to mention between recycled-yet-heartfelt speeches about how we are the best class ever, was freshman year, sophomore year and even junior year were really astoundingly hard.

Coming to a prestigious university like Notre Dame is an honor. It is a source of deep pride, something making you puff your chest out when someone from home asks where you go to school. But it also means that you go to school with the smartest and most accomplished kids in the country. It means that you compete on a grading curve that is not too easy to ride when studying has to take a backseat to stress, depression, homesickness, family problems and social anxieties. But you are not riding that curve alone. You’re on it with the same kids who “decided to be a doctor the day they were born” and the ones who are the “CEOs of Overachieving Teenage Start-Up, Inc.” At the very least, they aren’t the ones who seem to be strangled by self-doubt every moment of their college career. But then again, you’re so deep in your own worries you can’t tell if anyone else is drowning too. The Titanic is burning in the distance, hundreds of bodies are flailing in that same ocean, but you’re too exhausted to reach out, too scared that you’ll pull someone else under. And so college goes on and you try to survive the Notre Dame ride — you pull off passing grades because you are a world class “faker,” you go to parties, get drunk, talk about boys, volunteer in clubs and dream of making a difference in the world all while you feel like your world is only hanging on by one last shred of confidence and sanity.

But then one day, you have your “Father Jenkins, four seasons” moment.

As the tycoon of maturity and experience that I have become, I’ve learned that if you’re offered any opportunity to get a ride in a real and heated car to cut down on any of the walking distance between the JACC and Badin, you take it. So I got into my parents’ car after the Junior Parents Weekend brunch, let them pull into Main Circle and said my goodbyes. As I made my way across the South Quad diagonal to my dorm, four thoughts entered my head in succession. First, my goodbye to my parents just then felt so similar to my goodbye outside of Badin in the late summer of 2011, when I started my time at Notre Dame. Second, the bustle of campus over the weekend was reminiscent of the family atmosphere of fall football weekends. Third, it was stupid-cold outside in a skirt in the snow. Fourth, the strange noise I repeatedly heard this weekend was actually the very first chirps of spring songbirds.

Four seasons.

As I thought about that strange combination for a few paces, I felt a deep and new weight of contentment settling into my soul. How many times had I made that walk back to Badin before, coming back from class, a cab or a football game? And how many times did I spend that long, quiet walk questioning myself and my place at this school? Of those many walks, many were dark and lonely. But this one wasn’t. My “four seasons” moment communicated something to me, as quietly and softly as the snowfall over the muddied path under my feet. I had somehow survived those darkest days of self-doubt in what was supposed to be that happy, wild and sparkling freshman year of college. And sophomore year of college. And even junior year of college.

Maybe the Junior Parents Weekend speeches were right and we are the best class ever and we are tycoons of maturity, education and worldliness. And maybe we’re not. But they are right about one thing. If this is the beginning of the end of my time at Notre Dame, then I am going to finish as a person who is much different from the girl who came in feeling so inadequate. I’ll leave as someone who has friends and a dorm she is proud to show off to her parents. I’ll be someone who has tipped the balance from time spent drowning to time spent swimming — learning, pushing, friending and being. I’ll be someone who can walk across campus on the footpaths of past Frosh-O’s, football games, snowy days and Frisbee tosses and truly feel like I’m walking the paths of my home. And I’ll be a proud survivor of all the good and the bad alike.

I will be a true Father Jenkins four-season Domer.

Maura Kelly is a junior residing in Badin Hall.

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