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Notre Dame dreams

Lance Gallop | Wednesday, April 19, 2006

While I was in college there was always a sense that winter, spring and fall at Notre Dame were auditions for a summer dress rehearsal. The drama itself comes later, of course – a yearningly sensual self-reliance that we choose, for undisclosed reasons, to call the real world – but that does not lessen the tension and complexity of learning to apply the lessons of Notre Dame’s life-theoretical to life-practical during those four summer months. For this reason, the summer days are in no small way an image of the years to come.

The approach of summer reminds me of the post-graduate experience that those months emulate – it makes me wistful for answers to questions that I cannot yet phrase, and it makes me desire dreams that have no names. I imagine that it is this way for other people as well, approaching and following graduation, or I would not share these words. (Yet, if talk of this type is too odd or too personal for you, simply turn to another viewpoint.)

During my tenure at college, I consoled myself with the hope that the real world would bring an epiphany, or at least a logical progression, to these inner dreams. To my disappointment it only brought the din of greater yearnings. Most of these, though undeniably important, have very little to do with the quiet place where I am really myself and where these dreams live.

Notre Dame, to its credit, is built upon dreamers. Against all odds it may nurture a few from time to time. Yet this is both our success and our folly. As of late the University, like so many others, has become mired in neo-Ivy League bull and the values of lesser universities like Harvard have become our values as well. These universities recruit almost exclusively on the basis of the unrealized achievements and fame of their students (an admissions process with fascinating anti-Semitic roots, if you care to research it) and idolize the intellectual, social and spiritual elitism that is our kind’s greatest flaw. The quiet dreams cannot survive in this noise.

These days, people expect so much from Notre Dame graduates, and no one moreso than the graduates themselves. The pressure for glory is intense. Have you founded a humanitarian society yet? Why are you not working on Wall Street? The medical school that you have gotten into is not as good as I had hoped. I am disappointed that you are not commanding greater respect in your field. Why is your salary so meager?

Why have you failed?

And so the prerequisite for our happiness is an obsession with success and happiness itself. Our mentors – who are more experienced and worldly persons – will smile and call this time of life transitional and focus our attention on the process of moving forward. They will distract us just long enough for our own inner dreams to fade and for the dreams of Harvard and Yale to take over and become ours. If they do their job right, we will never even notice that we have died.

And while it is not my wish to belittle fame, the glory or the grand and practical dreams and achievements of those who reshape the world in their image – the Gandhis, the Edisons, the Fermis and the Fords – I do not buy into the myth that this one type of fulfillment is all that there is for everyone. Nor do I believe that these people obtained their mastery – save by whim of change – following a neo-Ivy League model of centered elitism. The insights and character of the truly great come from the same place as the quiet and nameless whispers that are stirring your heart and mine every moment, if we only listen.

If it is truly greatness that you seek – and there are very few who in their most honest moments would deny it – then understand that it can only be found by following the quiet, inner voices of your own real dreams, not in the loudness of the real world.

The obsession with success is not only emotionally and psychotically draining; it is spiritually and pragmatically self-defeating as well. The nature of a true dream is to be fragile and ineffable, and the price that you pay for sacrificing these whispers may well be irrevocable.

I enjoin you, therefore, as you step into the summer and beyond, and as you – just as I – are swept away by the currents, do not forget the tiny voice within you, and what it is lost by ignoring it.

Lance Gallop is a 2005 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Please direct all feedback to [email protected]

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