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The Notre Dame family

The Observer Staff | Friday, September 21, 2012

It’s a phrase tossed around like a pigskin on campus: “The Notre Dame family.” We’ve heard it before we were students from our admissions office tour guides. We heard it all during freshmen orientation. You probably hear it bandied about on a regular basis. And for those whose parents attended the University, they’ve been hearing it their entire life.
But the Notre Dame family isn’t just a phrase to pad tour guides’ itineraries or sell the University to prospective students. It is the backbone of the University. We see it in the actions of students, professors and staff every single day. Our family is a part of who we are as the University of Notre Dame, just like football or exceptional academics.
If you ever doubted the power of the Notre Dame family beyond just being a phrase, look no further than last weekend’s football game against Michigan State – and then look forward to this Saturday night’s matchup versus Michigan. Days before the team was set to square off against the Spartans, senior linebacker Manti Te’o’s grandmother and girlfriend both passed away. Manti suited up for the game and played with the heart of a champion, registering 12 tackles in the Irish victory. After the game, Te’o was asked if the game could have gone any better.
“Yeah, I could call my girlfriend right now and talk about the game,” he said. “But I’ve just got to get on my knees, say a prayer and I can talk to her that way.” Te’o’s teammates and coaches were there for him, naturally. But the Notre Dame fans who made the trip to East Lansing, Mich., also were there to support Manti, cheering his name throughout the game. The 12 tackles were nice, as was the win. But right then and there, Irish fans weren’t cheering onward to victory. They were there as family, supporting one of their own.
Saturday, we’ll see this in action again. Thousands of students, alumni and fans alike are planning to sport leis to the long-awaited matchup against archrival Michigan. This game is special more than just because it’s against Michigan or because it’s a night game. This game will be a display of the power of Notre Dame. These leis go beyond showing support for Manti in what is an unimaginably difficult series of days. They are a show of solidarity and gratitude, for putting so much into the University in a time of such sadness. They are a display of family, because that’s what family does – stand behind the brave, support the suffering and thank the selfless.
This game means a lot on the field for the Irish. But it means even more off of it. We must also take something away from the game Saturday – a reminder of how important family is to Notre Dame. Without it, we’re a university. With it, we’re the University. Manti Te’o isn’t the only one on campus going through struggles. Just because he puts it all on the line on the field, does not mean he is more a part of the Notre Dame family than anyone else. Remember that suffering knows no names. Whether they are fellow members of our residence halls, clubs or classmates, professors or staff members, rectors or roommates, everyone who is a part of Notre Dame is family to us. In times of need, that means supporting them unconditionally. Surprisingly, for some Notre Dame fans, football is secondary. When we came to the University, we may not have been able to tell a touchdown from a touchback. But family is natural for us. Family is universal here. Without family, we wouldn’t be the University of Notre Dame.