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If not Slytherin

Andrew Miller | Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Apparently Frosh-O changed. During the first week of school this year, I read an article about the orientation weekend that described a shift in focus from multi-dorm events to free time and residence hall bonding. I’m not opposed to the change, but I don’t think the changes have gone far enough. There’s a crucial process we as a Notre Dame community lack that should occur during Frosh-O but which would have lasting echoes into life on campus. The only way I can explain this process is to employ a passage from one of my favorite novels, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Harry enters the Great Hall during his first year, anxiously awaiting his name to be called from the scroll so he can step up and sit under the mystic and infamous Sorting Hat. With trepidation he approaches the bewitched cap, which immediately begins to talk to him. Harry, who has just seen his future nemesis Draco Malfoy sent to Slytherin House, thinks to himself, “Not Slytherin, not Slytherin, not Slytherin.” The Sorting Hat can hear him and debates these utterances while mentioning Harry’s natural wizarding skill. Ultimately the hat provides Harry (and the reader) with one of the most exciting moments in the entire Potter franchise: “Well if not Slytherin … better be … GRYFFINDOR!”

Much cheering ensues.

What did I learn from re-reading this passage recently? We at Notre Dame have great Frosh-O traditions, but we do nothing to imbue the random dorm assignments with the import they take on after Frosh-O. There needs to be a sense of dorm camaraderie from the first instant we walk on campus. We need a Sorting Hat Ceremony. And we need one as desperately as Dillon Hall needs a new signature event. We have residence halls with unique and strong identities as well as committed residents of those halls, eagerly awaiting the arrival of freshmen to mold in the ways of the Hall ancestors. We have rectors (Heads of Houses), RAs (prefects), and interhall sports (I’ve been meaning to get quidditch added to the RecSports list). Why can’t we just take it one step further and focus on what we really need?

The way I figure it, it wouldn’t even be hard to create a Sorting Hat Ceremony during the first moments of Frosh-O. All it would take is five steps.

First Requirement: A Renowned and Historically Important School.

I don’t think that anybody can debate Notre Dame’s ability to meet this requirement. Founded in the mid-19th century, a bastion of formative Catholic education, located in the heart of America. Our reputation precedes us: Not only has the school been in the top 20 of US News and World Report undergraduate rankings for several years, but each incoming year it boasts stricter and more academically rigorous admissions standards.

Second Requirement: A Great Hall.

There are many proponents of North Dining Hall. When it comes down to it, though, South just offers the classic dining hall feel. Oxford, Yale and many other great academic institutions around the world all employ the Great Hall style, with a head table full of faculty and long corridors full of eager minds. We have the location; let’s engineer it correctly. Either of South’s eating areas is big enough to fit the assembled Frosh-O population.

Third Requirement: A Comically Outlandish Faculty and Staff.

You can’t honestly tell me that you haven’t noticed that certain members of our faculty are just like those at Hogwarts. The gentle and reserved President who leads with a firm but loving hand. The burly football coach who watches over the great beast-like men of our beloved team, i.e. the “Game-Keeper.” The mysteriously curt Potions master (For those who don’t know, there is a Senior-only seminar in Advanced Potions that meets in the Radiation Research building).

Fourth Requirement: A Unique Hat.

I see two possibilities here. We can consider first what many people view as an iconic image of our university – the golden football helmets. A large sized helmet would be big enough to fit over anybody’s head and everyone looks good in gold. If we want a more academic approach, we could use Notre Dame’s doctoral tams. A splendid piece of academic regalia, I almost want to earn a JD or Ph.D. from Notre Dame just to get the tam.

Fifth Requirement: Magic.

This is my fourth year at Notre Dame and I have learned a great many things here. Yet for all I’ve learned, there is only one thing I know with certainty. We have magic at Notre Dame and in high supply. If you don’t believe me, just listen to that catchy tune that plays during the entirety of the fall semester: “There’s a magic in the sound of their name …” So if we have magic in the name, then every time somebody wears Notre Dame memorabilia, writes the monogram on their notebook, or even utters the syllables that compose the words “Notre Dame” we harness the magic and use it to our advantage.

So what’s stopping us from bringing these elements together? I implore you, students and faculty of Notre Dame, to heed my advice and implement a Sorting Hat Ceremony for next year. Though I will no longer be here, I would leave happy knowing that Frosh-O and the entire Notre Dame experience had been made that much better.

Andrew Miller is a senior English major. 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.