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Why I love Notre Dame

Andrew Nesi | Thursday, April 23, 2009

Josie Jeffries is the reason I love Notre Dame.

For three years, I’ve worked in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, and Josie’s sat beside me. Josie’s worked in the office for a long time. Back in the day, Josie ran the show but today, she does more administrative work – mailings, clerical work, whatever needs to be done to ensure the office runs as smoothly as she’s used to seeing it.

That’s not why I love Josie, though. I love Josie because whenever I walk into work, she smiles, stands up from her chair, and hugs me. It’s the sort of hug where she lingers for a few seconds and squeezes you a little tighter at the end, to let you know that she really means it. She always, always beams, as if your arrival made her day. She doesn’t need to say it – you know that she loves to be part of the office. She loves what she’s doing. And everyone who works in that office is happier because of it.

Barring a sudden, depressing turn in my life prospects, this is my last column in The Observer. Forgive my sentimentality.

This isn’t a perfect place. Far from it. We’re stricter on our women than our men. We go out of our way to reserve the ability to discriminate against someone who has had gay sex. We lose football games to Syracuse.

But I chose Notre Dame four years ago because, unlike other places I visited, just about everybody on this campus loves being here. You can feel it from the moment you step on campus.

The academics are a given. Even the emphasis on social justice is a given. It’s the people that make this place what it is, and the people who have taught me the most enduring lessons of Notre Dame.

People here love to be a part of this place, and love what they’re doing for it.

I’ve seen it in professors like Jim McKenna, whose Last Lecture inspired this column and who teaches with such passion that each year, he gets hundreds of 22-year-old boys interested in the merits of breastfeeding and mother-infant co-sleeping. It’s Bill Krier, whose English class inevitably turned into a series of life lessons, as if he couldn’t sleep at night without challenging us to think about how we ought to live our lives. It’s Susan Ohmer, Valerie Sayers, John McGreevy, Collin Meissner, Fr. Paul Kollman, Bob Schmuhl, Jack Colwell, Tom Kellenberg, Paul Weithman, Jon Coleman and countless others who I haven’t had the privilege of taking.

Of course, what unites them is their passion for their subject. But it’s also a passion for the process of teaching. They love to share engage students. They love to teach. And because of that, they teach well. My education is better because they do what they love and everybody knows it.

It’s staff like Charlotte, who swipes cards in North Dining Hall and takes the extra time to read the name on my ID and tell me to “Have a great dinner, Andrew.” It’s my usher in Notre Dame Stadium, Captain George, who couldn’t help but cheer with a bunch of not-quite-sober Domers dancing a jig in the pouring rain during the Michigan game. And it’s that guy in CoMo – whose name I don’t even know, but who has made, scooped and served me perfectly salted popcorn in CoMo for four years while I’m busy wrestling with a column. I can’t imagine Notre Dame without them.

This is what I love about Notre Dame, and have since the first day I stepped on campus. Every step of the way, we are surrounded by people who want to be a part of Notre Dame. They want to be part of our mission. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves that serves the greater good. And the way they do that – from Professor McKenna to Josie Jeffires – is by being passionate about their work and, in doing so, cheering up those around them. They do what they love – teach, work, and serve – to the end of being deeply ingrained in a community.

That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want to be like. I don’t know where I’ll find that, or even if I’ll find that. But thanks to these people – the people who define Notre Dame – I know what I’m looking for: Something that I can’t help but enjoy, and something that I can’t help but love.

Mawkish and trite? Yes.

But true, too.

Andrew Nesi is a senior American Studies major from Fairfield, Conn. Sophomore year, his lung collapsed, possibly as the result of a bad case of mono and an ill-timed breakup. He doesn’t have a job yet for next year, so if anybody has any

suggestions, please contact him. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @andrewnesi.

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

necessarily those of The Observer.