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My final Viewpoint column

Adam Newman | Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Over the past few years, I have had the incredible opportunity to express my political views in The Observer. Rather than write about politics, my last op-ed will share the main lessons I learned from Notre Dame.
Looking back, the best thing to happen to me at Notre Dame was not getting accepted into the Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) minor, an elite minor for very smart students. The sense of rejection was magnified by the acceptance of four mock-trial teammates. As a result, my confidence was bruised and I doubted my intelligence. To compensate, I started reading random books and articles like never before. During this time, I found some pieces on health care that made me extremely interested in a very important and complex issue. Years later, I think I have found the cause of my life – to promote a better American health care system. I probably never would have realized it if I did not get denied from PPE. So, if you ever have a door slammed in your face, try to find an open window. You may be amazed where it leads you.
I have learned better than most that unexpected failures and losses happen in life. However, as David Gergen, former advisor to President Clinton, says, spending time in the “wilderness,” or experiencing times when we find ourselves incredibly lost or confused, enables us to grow into who we are ultimately meant to be.
My favorite story is about a man who, over the course of his life, lost his mother in his boyhood, failed in business twice, had a nervous breakdown, lost one race for state legislature, two races for Congress and two races for the Senate, spent much of his life in debt, and lost his fiancé and two children to early deaths. This man underwent tremendous suffering and torment, but he ultimately became stronger and smarter as a result. It is perhaps a good thing he did, because his name was Abraham Lincoln, and his ability to endure failure and loss helped saved the Union amidst a civil war. Enduring pain and suffering does not necessarily mean we will get what we want in life. Rather, it is the resulting hope, optimism and learning that transforms us into the people we are meant to become. As the great Senator Bob Dole said of his war injuries, he was not Bob Dole despite his suffering, but because of it.
While there are events that are out of our control, it is important to control what we can in order to ensure we make the best decisions possible with our lives. We should work to pursue our passions, even if that is not what others may want. Having the courage to be ourselves is an incredibly important trait.  
I should know. I started as a finance major, even though I knew I loved politics. With all due respect to Mendoza, it was not the right place for me. But I continued on because I thought I could not escape (or find a job after college). Telling my parents during Junior Parents Weekend that I did not belong in business and the subsequent process of switching to political science was one of the toughest things I have ever done. But I am incredibly glad I did it, because the past year and a half have been the most creative and growth-filled years of my college career. Having the courage to exit a bad job, relationship, situation or mentality is one of the most important characteristics we can ever have.
This was one of many times when I had the courage to embrace my differences from my peers. I have found embracing one’s differences is a prerequisite to happiness, and it has been the determining factor of my experience at Notre Dame.
As I write my final piece for Notre Dame, I come full circle as I reflect upon the first piece I wrote for Notre Dame – my college application. Specifically, I remember writing about Fr. Jenkins’s quote, “We at Notre Dame must have the courage to be who we are. If we are afraid to be different from the world, how can we make a difference in the world?”
I have found being different at Notre Dame is not as easy as Notre Dame’s application suggests. Differences lead to awkwardness, failure and insecurity. Conforming to society is always easier, but it does not provide much fulfillment in one’s life. Thus, the greatest lesson Notre Dame provided me: work to understand your differences, come to peace with them and use them to change the world.

Adam Newman is a senior
studying political science. 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.