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It’s the climb

Andy Ziccarelli | Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It’s scary to think that this is my last ever first column of the semester. We seniors have had a number of these realizations within the past few weeks, and only then has it really started to hit home that, in a few short months, our experience here on campus will be over. Last home football game. Last time returning from break. And, worst of all, last first week of class (it’s all downhill after syllabus week.)

Those who have read my columns in the past know that I am prone to spontaneous, reflective rambling from time to time. And since I am feeling particularly sentimental, this week seemed as good as any to look back on just exactly how I got to where I am now. In many ways, my life is exactly where I thought it would be. I’m set to graduate from a great university with a degree in Civil Engineering. That was always the plan, and it most definitely what I was born to do.

And while the end result of an engineering degree may have been what I was expecting, the path that I took to get here must assuredly was not. And that is one of the best things about life, I have come to realize. As morbid as it sounds, we’re all headed towards the same place in life. Eventually, no one reading this column will be alive anymore anymore. But the journey that each takes to get there is what defines your life. College is not much different. We all come in as wide-eyed freshmen; some have a plan, and some don’t. Either way, college takes us to classrooms, cities and sketchy off-campus apartments we could never have imagined when we got here and introduces us to people with backgrounds unfathomably different than our own. No one takes a defined path, and that is where learning truly happens. In the words of the great contemporary philosopher Miley Cyrus, “it’s the climb.”

I suppose my journey started in high school. For me, it’s a minor miracle that I am even a student here, as opposed to about two hours south. My family raised me to worship a certain large, engineering-based, Indiana institution that just so happens to show up on Notre Dame’s football schedule every year. Four years later, I still have parents from back home asking me how much I have enjoyed my time at Purdue. As a high school senior, I would have bet anyone large quantities of money that I would not be a Notre Dame student four years later. But here I am. And not only that, I became a boxer. How many people get the chance to box in college? Bengal Bouts was certainly not something I intended on doing when I decided to come to Notre Dame, and how I ended up deciding to do it is still unclear to me. But it has been maybe the most influential experience I have had during my time here. It has made me tougher, more disciplined and more confident in myself.

Other things have taken me in directions that I didn’t anticipate, as well. My research (which I never thought I would be a part of) has shown me the merits of academia and has opened me to the idea of getting an advanced degree in engineering (also something I never thought I would be a part of). And I started writing as hobby, just to get my random thoughts onto paper somehow. Never once did I imagine sharing my thoughts with an audience as wide as Notre Dame’s campus. All of these experiences are not reflected on the degree that I am supposed to receive in May, but they are all contributed so much to the journey.

The best example of the importance of a journey I can come up with comes from what I know best, and that is the world of sports. This past spring, the Chicago Blackhawks won hockey’s ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup. As a native of Chicagoland, I was obviously thrilled. But something about the championship seemed….empty. I, like most my age, did not grow up on the Hawks. Their home games were not broadcast on TV until 2008, well past my formative years. As a result, I had very little connection with the team up until that point. I had only began to truly follow hockey three years ago, right as the team started their resurgence from the bottom of the standings. Sure enough, in my second year following the team, they won a championship. I almost felt guilty, as though I hadn’t paid my dues. There was no journey as a fan, no adventures with the team. There was no climb, and it seemed almost anticlimactic.

Meanwhile, anyone who has talked to me for longer than about 30 seconds knows about unhealthy, self-destructive obsession with the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 103 years, and have done absolutely nothing to earn my support over my lifetime. But for the last 21 summers, I have spent more time than I care to count in front of the TV watching the team. I have forgotten more random Cubs trivia then most rational human beings ever learn. And because of that, with apologies to my future wife, the day the Cubs win a championship will be one of the best days of my life (if it ever happens). It has been a long journey filled with excitement, tears, hope and plenty of heartbreak. But the ending will be so much sweeter because of everything Cubs fans have had to endure to get to that point.

So if you look around and your life appears to have veered way off course, don’t panic. Embrace it. See it as an opportunity. After all, it was a wise man who once said, “At the end, it isn’t who has the most toys, but who tells the best stories.”

Andy Ziccarelli is a senior majoring in civil engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]

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