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Improving the world

Observer Editorial Board | Friday, September 16, 2011

Nearly everyone associated with Notre Dame — students, faculty, alumni and administrators — incessantly talks about the “Notre Dame community.” The phrase is uttered so often it begins to lose some of its meaning, but this weekend will serve as a useful reminder of what it actually stands for.

Mike Lee, a 2009 graduate and now a professional boxer, returns to campus Friday to maintain his undefeated record, but not to further his career. Lee headlines the “Fight Like a Champion” event that will benefit two very worthy causes: the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation and the Robinson Community Learning Center.

Lee and the Parseghian Foundation exemplify everything the Notre Dame community stands for. Lee is a product of the venerable Bengal Bouts tournament, which for decades has been a way for Notre Dame students to use their physical talents to benefit those less fortunate: “strong bodies fight, so that weak bodies may be nourished.” This program has been so popular, a women’s version, Baraka Bouts, has been able to find plenty of participants each year to also fight for a similar cause. These two tournaments together raise thousands of dollars each year for overseas Holy Cross missions.

This is what the Notre Dame community is about.

The Parseghian Foundation is no different. Legendary football coach Ara Parseghian started the foundation after losing three of his four grandchildren to the extremely rare and fatal Niemann-Pick Type C disease, often known as NP-C. In his quest to help find a cure for NP-C, Parseghian turned to the College of Science, which embraced his cause with open arms.

Now, numerous faculty members in the College of Science are hard at work researching NP-C, searching for a cure. Many of these labs also spend time working on other, more publicized diseases. For example, Professor Malcolm Fraser’s lab is working on both a cure for HIV and a cure for NP-C. While the HIV/AIDS campaign is a worthy cause, it speaks volumes about the Notre Dame community that Fraser and his fellow faculty are willing to devote precious time and resources to researching a little-known disease. The College of Science, led in large part by Dean Gregory Crawford, has shown a willingness to use its considerable academic prowess to improve the lives of those stricken by fatal diseases.

This is what the Notre Dame community is about.

At its core, this community is driven by an overwhelming desire to improve the world. Anyone who has chosen to come here — whether student or professor — has, in some way, been inspired by Notre Dame’s promise to keep a larger sense of purpose. At the same time, anyone who is a part of this community is immensely talented, as Notre Dame’s recent appearance in the top 20 schools of U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings affirms. We are surrounded by people who could be driven solely by selfish desire. Lee doesn’t have to fight here, and he certainly doesn’t have to do it for charity. Yet he does it anyway.

Much in the same way, the community continues to show a willingness to improve the world in whatever way it can do so. From scientific research to student boxing, from the Kelly Cares Foundation to the Lose the Shoes soccer tournament, Notre Dame has developed an ethos of leveraging talents to improve the world.

This is what the Notre Dame community is really all about.