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Real leaders graduate

| Wednesday, December 2, 2009

This is an open letter to Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate and any other student athletes who are considering leaving Notre Dame instead of graduating.

Please reconsider your decision to leave Notre Dame following your coach’s departure. The value of your education and life here at Notre Dame should not be taken lightly. You have become an important part of our family not just our history since you came here, and we support you as our ambassadors to the world. The true glory of your leadership is not calculated by how much money you can earn as a pro athlete, but how many lives you can touch through doing good work both on and off the field. That’s one of the reasons that Notre Dame expects our athletes to graduate: there are a lot more important things in life than money. And at Notre Dame you are given the opportunity to do both.

As an Notre Dame football fan since the early 1970s, I look forward to every autumn with hope and high expectations. We sure seem to win a lot of close games that nobody thought we could — the house that Rock built is a magical place to be, that’s for certain. And having been a student from 1986 to 1991, I recognize the pressure and stress that you must endure through winning years and losing streaks. But storied competitors going back as long as I can remember have gone the full distance to earn their degrees. Some of these men I still admire today, like Rocky Bleier, Bob Golic and Chris Zorich. They gave deeply of themselves not just for the University or for personal gain, but also gave back to their communities because they understood their greater responsibility to their world as a whole. Sure it’s great to be popular, but it’s more important to share love and mercy to those in need.

I admit, I am a bit selfish. I would love to see our football team win another national championship, or a major BCS bowl game, or perhaps have the opportunity to watch a great player like yourself earn the Heisman. And certainly you might find that revenge wins against Stanford or Navy would grant some sense of accomplishment. But with more thought, I realize that I have received much more from my education at Notre Dame than my GPA might humbly suggest. At Notre Dame, I built relationships with amazing people, learned to open my mind to many new ways of seeing the world, and was able to share my skills with others for rewards that far outweigh my earnings hence. Our University’s tradition of service permeates our culture and inspires us to walk that extra step and lend that helping hand. In fact I suggest participating in the Urban Plunge program over Christmas if you haven’t already taken on a social project. I readily admit that such experiences changed and improved me in ways I could not have predicted.

I’m not certain how an anonymous letter from a stranger might influence your weighty decision, but I urge you to consider the consequences of abandoning your education, and conversely, those consequences of how you would benefit by sucking it up and showing your brothers and sisters at Notre Dame that you have the intestinal fortitude to do the right thing for both you and for your school. Earning a four-year degree isn’t just some hobby — it’s a commitment to yourself, to prove that you can succeed with your mind as well as your body. Graduating is an accomplishment that is fiercely personal, yet given your growing national popularity, it also sets a great example for your younger fans — something that you can’t go back and do over a second time. While I can’t give you much except a glimpse at how earning your degree from Notre Dame will make your life better, I strongly urge that you give Notre Dame the best effort you can. In the end it’s your choice to make, but I am praying that you will make the right choice. Notre Dame graduates take on responsibilities greater than those from other schools, and I think you have a strong enough will to follow in our footsteps.

Jeff Sepeta
Class of 1991
Nov. 30