The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



The best years of my life

Claire Kelley | Friday, May 19, 2006

I can vividly remember being in the backseat next to all my belongings as my parents drove onto campus on the first day of Freshman Orientation. This was a big day not only for me, but also for my family – my father went to Notre Dame, my mother went to Saint Mary’s and they met studying abroad in Rome. As the road curved and we passed the bookstore, I remember my father saying, “My years at Notre Dame were the best years of my life.”

For me, this was somewhat of a shock. How could his favorite years be before I was born? But as I looked out the car window, I realized that my father was nostalgic for the times in college that he remembers as carefree – lots of time to read and learn, opportunities to travel the world, no monthly bills to pay, meals ready at the dining hall, no major responsibilities, and plenty of crazy and fun friends (they have reunions almost yearly to reminisce). Of course, meeting my mother was probably a major highlight. But I felt a heavy mixture of anticipation, fear and excitement press down upon me: What would Notre Dame be for me?

At that moment, I could not have predicted what now, looking back, the highlights of my Notre Dame experience have been. I never would have guessed that I would be a photographer for The Observer – a job that has let me see Notre Dame from top to bottom (literally) and around the world. Assignments have allowed me to climb the scaffolding of the dome when it was being regilded last year, descend into the tunnels under campus, cover football games on the sidelines, and travel to Rome for the Board of Trustees meeting. I took a camera when a group of about thirty students drove to New York City to protest the war in 2003, and I’ve photographed lectures and performances from Helen Prejean to the Cheiftains.

In the midst of looking through my own camera lens, I’ve come to see that Notre Dame gives us a unique perspective – one that emphasizes a search for wisdom, an ethical viewpoint, and a universal community. So while I definitely didn’t find a husband, I have discovered a lot about myself. The complexities of my academic, spiritual, and personal growth have changed me into a different person from that first day on campus, and in some ways my identity has become intertwined with this university.

I’m sure your Notre Dame experience was different than mine. But as the years go by, and we look back at the photographs of our favorite moments, our backwards glance will become clouded with a rosy glow of nostalgia – our time here will only get better and better.

In a few days, as I drive away with my belongings, I think I will actually feel a little lighter. I’ll be thankful for all of the opportunities that my parents and Notre Dame have given me. I’ll have happy memories of friendships, adventures abroad and some fantastic dance parties. But I’ll also feel a freeing sense of independence that comes with new responsibility. And I’ll look forward to the best years of my life.

Claire Kelley is an English and Art History major from Columbus, Ohio. She would like to thank the fifth year architecture class, the English professors in the Irish Studies department, the social activists on campus, the WVFI crowd, her brother Michael, her sister Ann, and of course, everyone at The Observer for enriching her college experience. Next year, Claire will be teaching English in France. After that she hopes to have more adventures in far away places, pursue a book publishing career, and one day live by the sea.