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No apologies for this senior class

Gary Caruso | Friday, April 25, 2008

It would be easy to lose sight of the good yet to come for this year’s graduating seniors by focusing on the wars overseas, rising gasoline prices, an unpopular president they have known since throughout their teens or a faltering job market. Not this year. Not this class. They are my “bros” since they will attend Notre Dame reunions during the same five-year intervals that I attend. So in May, they enter my world – one made personally pleasant or miserable individually by each of us.

The late humorist and syndicated columnist, Art Buchwald, was fond of telling seniors during a chaotic year like 2008 that he was proud his generation was leaving them a perfect world. For decades his humor was uplifting to his readers. Ultimately, he wrote his last column which the newspaper held for more than a year before he died of kidney failure. In it he wrote, “Each of you has, in your own way, contributed to my life.” Yet in actuality, it was Buchwald, even after his death when his final words appeared in print, who helped ease the anxieties of others by explaining his choice to refuse to continue dialysis.

Seniors will learn how to face the world as the years pile on their shoulders. Since my graduation, I learned that much of the joy or anxiety of others depends upon each individual’s sense of sharing. Many may know that Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis will join other college head football coaches in late May for a visit of our military troops serving in Iraq. These coaches simply did not one morning wake up and wonder how they could share comfort and good will with the troops. One of my Notre Dame classmates, Mike Whalen, worked for months organizing the initiative with several other Domers currently serving as senior officers in various branches of our military services.

Whalen is the type of forceful soul whose outlook of life comes from facing the horrors of death during his own military service during the Vietnam era. He is the earthly version of a guardian angel who smokes cigars. Whalen has scolded University admissions officers when they failed to recognize the genius of a current Notre Dame student they initially rejected whose world wide web accomplishments and fame are as popular as Harry Potter. Whalen unleashed his many talents to assist a soldier about to unjustly face criminal charges brought by a zealous military prosecutor who refused to allow any consideration of that soldier’s post traumatic stress diagnosis. Whalen is but one of many students graduated from Notre Dame who are uniquely operating in the real world beyond our ivy-covered walls.

Graduating seniors this year have suffered through one of the most humbling football seasons in modern history. That suffering certainly qualifies them to wear sandals at graduation as a symbol of their humility. Moreover, the hockey team barely fell short of a championship and others like the Irish team at the National Student Case Study Seminar, for example, also placed second in that academic and professional competition. Yet, many teams won Big East honors through thrilling moments. Having played on the Lyons Hall softball team and lost to Flanner Hall in the campus interhall championship, I learned to how to win other championships later on Capitol Hill and in local leagues. Sometimes being part of the hunt is more important than bagging the fox.

Seniors this year are thrust into a world of special circumstances like my class during the Vietnam War. At rare moments in history we are called upon, as Norman Lear says, to be a reborn American. This graduating class is called upon to strive like Abraham Lincoln to search for a constant rebirth of democracy. They soon will learn how to be a force to change the world for the better either gregariously like Whalen or more humbly through individual efforts as a volunteer at food banks, homeless shelters and other charitable organizations. While each approach is distinctly different, marching loudly in military boots or walking quietly in sandals both achieve a humanitarian goal.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote a moving poem in which he best describes the task ahead of graduating seniors:

“I am waiting for a rebirth of wonder, and I am waiting for someone

to really discover America, and I am waiting for the American Eagle

to really spread its wings and straighten up and fly right, and I am waiting for the Age of Anxiety to drop dead

… and I am perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder.”

It is nearly time for the Class of 2008 to leave campus on their own quest of wonder. Indications are that the boots and sandals on the ground are prepared for the journey.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a communications strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column usually appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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