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Observer Editorial: Thankful for 175 years

| Friday, November 17, 2017

As many of us head home for the Thanksgiving holiday in a few days, some of us will likely experience the Notre Dame airport phenomenon: A complete stranger’s eyes will light up when he or she sees Irish apparel.

“Do you go to Notre Dame?” the person will ask enthusiastically.

We will smile and nod and share some small talk — about how beautiful campus is, about the results of the most recent football game, about our dorms. Whether it’s an alumnus or just a fan of the football program, we’ll probably share a “Go Irish!” and one thing will be abundantly clear — there’s just something special about Notre Dame, and there is no shortage of things to be grateful for.

Maybe it’s the education — our classes, our professors, our papers, projects and theses — that sets Notre Dame apart.

As a quick Google search will tell you, Notre Dame is home to some of the best educators, courses and resources the country has to offer, and they’re all at our disposal. We’re able to follow our passions, try new things and work to solve the problems facing our world in real time, with the help and support of a readily available faculty.

But even beyond the rankings and the “premier research institution” moniker, there exist endless opportunities for education beyond the classroom. There is no shortage of grants we can apply for, trips we can go on or research we can do to learn how our talents and skills can make the world a better place.

There’s an expectation of learning with responsibility here — learning to contribute to society, not just learning for the sake of accumulating money or power — and that expectation fuels much of what we do and the decisions we make.

Or maybe it’s the people that make this place so special. The community here is unlike any other — as almost anyone would tell you, the people here are “just so nice” — and we all got here through the support of people who love and care for us. That support is remarkable and incomparable, and it lives on through each individual here.

Even within the sprawling Notre Dame community, we have our own personal communities and people with whom we develop an allegiance — whether they’re friends from our dorms, from our majors, our classes, our activities or random happenstance opportunities. These are the people that become “your people,” the people you rely on through thick and through thin, through your best and worst times at Notre Dame and beyond. More importantly, these are the people that make you a better person, and thus contribute to the holistic nature of this University.

Maybe it’s the wealth of opportunities that make this place so special. Each of those academic and communal characteristics of the University is a special opportunity given to us.

There’s also the opportunity to explore our passions and hone our skills, whether debating for the Mock Trial team, doing research for a professor, playing an intramural sport or working with various offices on campus.

There’s even the opportunity to deepen our faith with Sunday Mass right in our dorms, or with the Grotto no more than a ten-minute walk away.

Or maybe it’s just the pure magic of Notre Dame — the incomparable shine of the Dome, the beauty of the Grotto, the energy on campus, the way that South Bend can feel like home — that make this place so loved.

The traditions run deep on campus. We know all the words to the alma mater and the fight song. We’ll avoid walking up the Main Building stairs like the plague, and we can pull off a remarkable number of airborne pushups. So we wear our Notre Dame gear to the airport with pride — we know there’s a magic in the sound of her name.

Now, as we prepare to celebrate the University’s 175th anniversary, it’s important to remember how far we’ve come and yet how far we have to go. As Fr. Jenkins said in his 2009 Commencement remarks, “There is a special expectation, a special hope, for what Notre Dame can accomplish in the world.”

The University and its graduates have accomplished countless feats in the past 175 years, and that expectation lives on. While there exists an undeniable love for this place we call home for four years, there still exists room for improvement.

Had the University forgotten this expectation in the late 1940s, it would not have admitted a black student. Had the University forgotten this expectation in 1972, it would not have admitted women. And now, as the world continues to face some of its more difficult challenges, it is continually important for all of us who make up the University to remember this special expectation and hope.

So as Thanksgiving draws near, we can be thankful that this place gives us what we need to live up to that expectation and hope: the opportunity to become better people, in and out of the classroom, on and off the field, before and after Notre Dame.

And maybe that’s what makes this place special: We never really leave here — it just becomes a part of who we are.

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