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Finding home

Matt Miklavic | Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Like most Notre Dame students, my senior year of high school was filled with college essays, college applications and college anxiety. I sent out multiple applications, received fewer acceptances and whittled it down to a couple of schools. Then it came time to pick one. Chances are that if you’re reading this, then you and I made the same decision to come to Notre Dame. For a time, however, I had no idea where I would go.
While perhaps inconceivable for some at Notre Dame, I came pretty darn close to picking Boston College. As I am from the Northeast, Boston College sits a comfortable two hours from home. It was neither far enough that distance might be an issue nor close enough that it would feel as though I’d never left home. And when I mean I was close to picking it, I mean I was sitting at my kitchen table in the last week in April filling out the acceptance paperwork. I came closer to mailing that envelope than Pittsburgh came to beating Notre Dame, and my unease from the indecision was probably about the same as Brian Kelly’s as Pittsburgh’s kicker sailed it wide right.  That envelope, however, never made it to the mail. What I couldn’t overcome, what I couldn’t get past, was this feeling that Notre Dame was a special place. I couldn’t get past the feeling that Notre Dame was different. When people would ask me what I meant, I didn’t know how to explain it. There was an inescapable aura that portended Notre Dame was markedly unlike the other schools I’d seen.
Nearly two years later, I can identify what I felt back then. I can identify the community that envelops campus. I can identify the way dorms become families and confirm the tour guide wasn’t kidding when he said student life was unlike anything else you’ll find. More than anything else, however, I can identify the unique outlook Notre Dame inspires. Over winter break, I watched my share of bowl games. With each successive game, the two schools involved ran a commercial highlighting their respective institutions. Almost without fail, schools will show a few scenic shots of campus and highlight the opportunities they provide to advance the prospective student’s career. They’ll show students on a meticulously groomed quad, a studious lab researcher and some kids smiling on a stroll through campus. They’ll list the ways they will serve the student.
With every Notre Dame home football game, the University airs a commercial highlighting the work of a member of the Notre Dame community bettering society. Whether fighting tropical diseases in Haiti, making senior citizens’ dreams come true or limiting the effects of natural disasters, Notre Dame doesn’t promise its prospective students this or that. Rather, it challenges them to affect others. The school’s recently produced admissions video places an emphasis not on what Notre Dame will do for you but how Notre Dame will enable you to do for others. Combined, these most public displays of the University’s mission show not the ways the University can serve the student but the ways the student can serve the world.
In retrospect, this is the intangible aura to which I was attracted. University President Emeritus Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy has called South Bend our campus and the world our classroom. Whatever one’s major or path, we are told to seek change, to find solutions and to champion a better tomorrow. In the words of University President Fr. John Jenkins, “There is a special expectation, a special hope, for what Notre Dame can accomplish in the world … that it will send forth graduates who – grounded in deep moral values – can help solve the world’s toughest problems.” There is a sense that not only can we affect the world, but we are expected to. Not only are we invited, but compelled. It is a powerful statement and one that even above its sense of community, its academics and its football, makes Notre Dame what it is. This is not to say that no other institutions foster similar ideas; they do. It is not to say our students have no equal; we do. It is not to say Notre Dame is perfect; it is not. It is to say there is an element of Notre Dame that is genuinely special.
While back home this Christmas, I ran into one of my old teachers. “National championship? Guess you made the right choice,” he said. I smiled and laughed. I agreed, but it had nothing to do with the national championship. Almost two years later, I know I made the right choice in going a thousand miles west rather than a couple hours down the coast to Boston, and not just because I don’t want to watch my team’s lineman sobbing on national television when Louis Nix mauls him in the fourth quarter. I know I made the right choice because of the community I’ve found, the friends I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had. I know I made the right choice because I found a place that seeks not to serve me but to help me serve others. Ultimately, I know I made the right choice because I call an incredible place home. But in fairness, the football doesn’t hurt.
Matt Miklavic is a sophomore studying political science and business from Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  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.