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“Doing it wrong”

| Monday, September 7, 2015

My parents and grandmother came to Notre Dame yesterday to visit me and, as terrible as this sounds, I was mildly embarrassed for most of the time they were on campus. Not that they’re embarrassing — they’re truly lovely people and I adore them. It’s just that they love Notre Dame too much.

I am not a legacy student, but my family has a fascination with Notre Dame that I’m sure is not unique. They treat Notre Dame like a tourist attraction, snapping the same pictures: Basilica, Dome, ‘Touchdown Jesus,’ stadium gate and steps of my dorm each time. Asking me trivial questions about my home under the dome that I can’t answer, because I don’t know when this building was built or who the DeBartolo’s are, and generally “oohing” and “ahhing” over everything.

Sometimes, I think they forget that my time at school is more than just an extended, albeit highly educational, vacation. This is where I live now, where my friends live and where I work. When they see ‘Touchdown Jesus,’ all they see is an awesome mosaic. I see that too, but I also see the building where I’ve spent countless hours studying, researching, writing and visiting office hours. We’ll walk past O’Shaughnessy Hall and they’ll ask me about the strange, grimacing statue out front. I don’t even know the name of it or who made it; I just pass it everyday when I go to class.     

Their view of Notre Dame is highly idealized and most of the time I don’t feel like I really fit into that fantasy they believe in. My grandmother, especially, seems to think that Notre Dame is a place where nothing bad ever happens. It’s just football, beautiful buildings and fun all the time — like Disney World, but with more snow and the added bonus of Catholicism. I love Notre Dame, but that doesn’t mean I have no complaints or issues with my life here. But if I bring these up to my family, I feel like I’m spoiling their fun.

I know parents (and grandparents) living vicariously through their children is nothing new, but this is why I’m embarrassed when they visit: my actual life doesn’t quite line up with what they believe it is. I’m happy with what I do here, but sometimes I worry it isn’t enough. Family members will call me to talk about the football game, the women’s basketball game or whatever game and I won’t have anything to say because I wasn’t there. I’ll tell them as much, they’ll be disappointed that I’m not having the “full college experience” and then they’ll try to convince me that I would like going to the games if I tried it. I know I wouldn’t, because large crowds make me anxious, but they ignore this because it conflicts with what they think a Notre Dame student’s — what my — life should be.

Notre Dame is special for a lot of reasons and no one should ever feel like they love it for the wrong ones. If you’re happy with your experience here (I know I am), why should it matter if anyone else thinks we’re “doing it wrong?”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Megan Valley

Megan Valley is one of the Associate News Editors for The Observer. A junior majoring in English and the Program of Liberal Studies, she hails from Flushing, MI and lives in Flaherty Hall.

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  • Megan, Notre Dame will “grow” on you as you grow. You’ll learn in post-graduate visits to campus who the stained glass saints depicted are, who the statues at O’Shag represent and who made them (and the pietá in the Basilica) as well as revel on your own about Moses and the fiery bush at the west entrance to Hesburgh. I, too, have been a sneerer. But one day you’ll be one of the old guys–and then you’ll know. Disney World is nothing by comparison. You might even escort your grandchild to secret places around campus and endow them with your own story. JPD: ND ’66, ’68, ’92, ’97

  • Andrew

    A nice article — there are more students on campus than you probably think. I think John has a fair point, but I would caution a one-size-fits-all mentality. I’m a very recent alum and I — like the author — don’t embrace the rah-rah Notre Dame stuff nearly as much as many of my peers and their families seem to. Notre Dame was a special place and I truly enjoyed my time there, but it will always be the place where I received an education and never a tourist attraction. I was on campus last weekend for the first time since I graduated and I while I did feel an overwhelming wave of nostalgia, I still could not help but smirk at the people posing in front of Touchdown Jesus or snapping pictures of the Grotto. There is no “wrong” way to “do” your Notre Dame experience — I wrote my own story and I encourage you to do the same.

  • Pleasantville and Peyton Place are more apt descriptors.