Embracing the highs and the lows
Dan Brombach | Friday, May 16, 2014
After taking the last final of my undergraduate career, I found myself sitting with my housemates on top of our garage. Between sips of Du Lac-approved beverages and silently praying the roof wouldn’t collapse beneath me, I began to zone out. I began to commit the crime I had earlier promised myself I would avoid. I began to have a cliché, end of college, sappy, “Jesus Christ, I’m supposed to be a real human being soon.” moment of reflection on my four years at Notre Dame.
My college career was a bipolar collection of the highest highs and the lowest lows. Like many kids that come to Notre Dame, I got a steady IV drip of humility my freshman year. I was just as pale and awkward as I was in high school, but after my first few chemistry exams took me out behind the shed, I felt like a tiny pale fish in a lake filled with fish that had already cured cancer and saved a small African nation from civil war. The bright side is that all this did was motivate me.
Getting academically bushwhacked my first semester pushed me to work harder, to not skip early morning lectures, to get involved outside the classroom and prove to myself that I belonged at a University filled with so many impressive kids. My failures early on helped pave the way for later success. And to be honest, that may be the overriding theme of my college career.
“Dan,” you might say, “Your message sounds like a two-bit rip off of that one Darius Rucker song.” Well, that’s hurtful. You sound like my stepdad after a few Mike’s Hard Lemonades.
The first semester of my sophomore year was hands down the lowest point of my life. I learned how to make new friends, but painfully experienced how easily existing friendships can be damaged. I bounced back and forth between anger and sadness, burying myself in work because I didn’t know what else to do. I’m not sure if I ever could have gone through with it, and I’m not sure if it’s something I told anyone, but I even began having thoughts about transferring out of ND. Then one day, I got an email.
The email was from the Office of Housing, alerting students of the upcoming deadline for switching residence halls. More important than the email itself, I began receiving text messages from friends I had made in another dorm, including my closest friend from back home. “Did you see the email? What do you think?”
I ultimately did transfer out, but not out of Notre Dame. Instead, I was taken in by a community that definitively shaped the rest of my time in college. The men of Zahm took me in when I was at my lowest point, and these men and their community became one of my greatest high points. I have trouble imagining what my time here would have looked like without the friends I made during my stay in Zahm. In fact, as I reflected on these things, five of them were sitting up on the roof with me: my housemates.
“Dear Mr. Brombach, We received a wide variety of talented applicants for the position this year, and after careful review, we have decided not to further pursue your candidacy.”
I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone this twice, but receiving your first cookie-cutter, delightfully passive-aggressive internship rejection email stings like little else can. It’s a severe disappointment, like your stepdad Chaz forgetting to pick you up from soccer practice for the third time in a week. I entered my junior year with a grand vision. Despite being a history major, I would be an investment-banking intern in Chicago or New York. It would be tough work and terrible hours. I would be the intern equivalent of a Malaysian sweat shop worker, if sweat shop workers spent their days proofreading pitch books and getting yelled at about hot keys. But even this didn’t deter me. What did deter me was a nice little string of rejection emails.
What this rejection did was deny me the non-critical route. It made me think hard about what I truly was interested in. I didn’t wind up at Goldman Sachs, but I did find myself studying and traveling in Jerusalem, meeting new friends while rediscovering my passion for history and foreign policy. If I hadn’t failed, if I had worked 14-hour days behind a desk in Chicago, I would have missed out on one of the greatest experiences of my life. The interviewing practice it gave me also helped me lock down a job this year, which is nice, because I wasn’t looking forward to living in a dumpster behind the Hilton DoubleTree after graduation.
My college career had more than it’s share of low points. But if it weren’t for these low points, I don’t know if I would have experienced the high ones. I’m sure I have a lot more failing to do in life, and that’s exciting. Not because I’m a masochist, but because I can’t wait to see what comes of it.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.