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Hooking up with the senior class

Gary Caruso | Friday, April 24, 2009

What a year to be a senior. With less than a month remaining before the conclusion of their beloved undergraduate education, chaos still looms on the Commencement horizon. One thing is certain, this senior class will be remembered more for rabid political reaction rather than for the honor of hosting the President of the United States.

It has been said that some places are made sacred by the people and events that graced them. Nearly two decades ago, Catholic Democratic New York Governor Mario Cuomo laid out his pro-choice position at Notre Dame. Both the governor’s scholarly courage and the University’s scholarly opposition made sacred Our Lady’s campus at that time. Unfortunately, many frustrated and some racist protesters are bent on a messy public repudiation of the president rather than civilized discourse that would grace our campus.

On campus, this year began with another disappointing football season replete with snowballs and security surveillance. The second semester kicked off a collapse of the men’s basketball program. Both can be squarely blamed on the coaching staffs. Yet, during the seniors’ tenure on campus, deserving teams like the men’s hockey and women’s soccer have fallen to the fickleness of sporting gods whose mission it is to thrill as well as disappoint. So seniors have learned that life is full of fickle disappointments. But how we react is the measure of our character.

Nationally, our senior class helped elect a most historic candidate to the presidency. As a former political student activist at Notre Dame, this writer has endured decades of disappointment because President Obama is the first to build a successful majority coalition of students, progressives and liberals. While I attended Notre Dame, our nation elected Richard Nixon – arguably the worst president of modern day until George W. Bush with his ideological zealots who disregarded the rule of law at every turn.

Forty years ago, I too was a senior, albeit in high school. My four decades since have breezed by with a sprinkling of slow-motioned, memorable moments that I still savor today. Yet, those decades slipped through my fingers as quickly as the last four years have for the senior class. Take it from one who knows, remember to clasp onto every minute possible, for the best of time will sustain you like a hearty breakfast.

Some day, your parents, friends, pets and lovers will pass at the most unexpected moment. Their images glaring back at you through your iPod will barely allow you the comfort you feel with them today. Simon and Garfunkel best describe that moment with the lyrics, “Long ago it must be, I have a photograph./ Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”

Most importantly, never lose your dignity, humor or tolerance of others, especially those farthest from your comfort level. This column’s recent tongue-in-cheek counter to the Cardinal Newman Society is the classic example of how destructive certainty in religion can become. A group acts irresponsibly – and especially Catholics who should be held to a higher standard – when they publicly chastise and condemn without dignity, humor and tolerance during a debate.

Speaking of debate, early in this school year the debate over the definition of “hooking up” seemed to be a defining moment for the year, especially after “The Vagina Monologues” went on hiatus. In my day on campus, a hook-up was a sexual home run, period. The meaning was clearly a black and white meaning – either you hooked up or you did not. Forget first, second or third base. It was a home run or strikeout. We had no friends with benefits or BFF or BMF designations. The 1970s was a slow-motion time well remembered.

But now in the Twittering era, everything takes on nuances which make this year’s senior class one of great hope and ability. By and large, most seniors are not closed-minded zealots. In fact, they are the future face of our society. Seniors are beyond frowning upon interracial dating, gay persons and funny looking religious apparel. Those are the scars of older generations.

Seniors are at their best when they give a dollar to the drunk who uncomfortably begs while standing close to the car window at the traffic light. They are best when they smile at the stranger standing in line with them waiting to board a plane or when they crack a humorous observation to lighten both their own and other travelers’ anxieties. Seniors are always at their absolute best when they treat a pet with love rather than as a master.

Despite a sluggish economy, similar to when I graduated, the future is bright for this year’s seniors. Those dudes will undoubtedly hook up with fate to make places sacred by gracing them. Let’s hook up sometime soon too.

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 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.