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Now & Then: Fall Break

Marissa Frobes | Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Notre Dame is unique for a number of reasons: its strong Catholic identity, an unusually supportive alumni network and Fall Break. Each year, students are granted one week off right in the middle of October, comfortably situated after most midterms and before Halloween.

Maybe it’s a result of an early return to school, or Christmas break beginning relatively late. Whatever the reason, most universities do not have it, so Domers have learned to use the week well.

To ward off a post-midterm health decline, the most logical pick-me-up for any student is obviously a vacation. And for seniors, Fall Break is one of the last opportunities to bum cash for a trip off parents before graduating and learning about financial independence.

Many students choose to road trip to a peer’s house, preferably one with an attractive climate or booming nightlife. If there is an away football game one of the weekends, groups accumulate to support the Irish in another state. Or, upon celebrating the final 21st birthdays in the early fall at school, seniors will venture into Sin City for a week of legal debauchery.

Undoubtedly a majority of seniors travel somewhere over Fall Break, but most vacation in fairly small groups with close friends. But in the 1980s, the Student Activities office, a Senior Trip Committee and travel agencies organized mass getaways for the graduating class.

Though there were a few destinations in America  (New Orleans and California) most of these senior trips were tropical, with the Bahamas and Jamaica as frequent choices.

In 1987, probably the largest group, 500 seniors, vacationed in Jamaica at the Wyndham Rose Hall Hotel, which offered inclusive sailing and snorkeling, a pool bar and volleyball. For meals, most students dined at restaurants that offered “free-ride-at-your-own-risk-transportation,” according to “The Dome” yearbook of ’87.

1990 marked the last year for the senior trip due to “travel problems” to and from Cancun, Mexico. “The Dome” of 1990 sums up their memories, some of which are questionable: “oasis, snorkeling, Senor Frog’s, Dadios, Jose Cuervo, Chicken Itza, Pirate’s night cruise, Ecstasy, Bombay Bicycle Beach Club, Picante Grill…”

Either “Ecstasy” is the name of a nightclub, or citing “travel problems” as grounds for the nullification of the senior trip is a bluff.

It’s unclear whether these Fall Break senior trips should be missed. Undeniably, they sound like a great time. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy an island holiday with anywhere from 100 to 500 fellow students?

But they also sound like a huge liability for whoever was responsible for their organization. Every parent’s worst fear is blindly sending his or her child to a foreign country for a week of endless partying.

So maybe we’ve found the perfect solution with the current standard usage of fall break. Traveling with smaller groups to less extreme destinations, but nonetheless relieving the stress of school — most would agree it’s a decent compromise.

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

Contact Marissa Frobes at [email protected]