A senior reminisces
James Vignali | Monday, February 24, 2014
Choosing to attend Notre Dame was hard for me — not because I didn’t think it was a great school — I’m just really bad at making decisions, and this one felt like life-and-death. In the end, I decided that the Notre Dame community really won out. At all the schools I had visited, I had been preoccupied with how people met each other, who they were friends with, where they lived, etc. I thought Notre Dame would be the best guarantor for a great community — it’s really all anyone seemed to talk about.
That summer, my family was on vacation when Residential Life emailed me to check the website for my room assignment. My brother had graduated the year before, and Keenan Hall had seemed to be the focal point of his time at Notre Dame. I didn’t know much about the other dorms; all I knew is that I didn’t want to be in Zahm. That name just meant bad things to me. Not only had I heard it used like a curse for four years, but I had witnessed public debauchery at its worst when I visited and saw some degenerates play Bookstore Basketball.
When I logged online to bear witness to my eternal fate, I felt like Harry Potter putting on the Sorting Hat. “Not Zahm,” I kept repeating in my head, “Anywhere but Zahm.” You can guess what happened, but don’t worry — this isn’t another story about Zahm. I’d like to say that it isn’t another story about Notre Dame either ⎯ those always made me cringe ⎯ but it really is. It’s a bit of my Notre Dame story.
My first year at Notre Dame was rough. Not academically ⎯ sadly it was my best ⎯ but I just never felt like I fit in. It wasn’t that I was really different from anyone else — in fact it seemed like a lot of us were the same. And it wasn’t that I didn’t give Zahm or Notre Dame my full effort. My brother had secretly convinced me that Zahm was a great dorm to be in, maybe even the best. I simply wasn’t getting that college experience that high school had always seemed to be leading to. I’m not saying that in the past four years there weren’t bright spots, but it always felt like I was on the outside looking in.
Thinking back I can come up with all kinds of reasons and excuses why things didn’t work, but that’s not what I want to focus on. This isn’t an article about what college students do wrong or how to be successful here. Frankly, I have no idea. I simply want to take this page and say thank you. Someone might say it’s all the struggles I went through that gave me some perspective, but, honestly, it just feels like it’s my turn to have it really good and that goodness has given me the opportunities to appreciate the best of the Notre Dame community.
I would like to thank all the people, in and out of Zahm, who have made these past months a special time for me. Every day, someone amazes me with their intelligence or kindness or wit or beauty, and I really do feel blessed to be here.
Lastly, I would like to talk to any student who feels like they’re not having the time they thought they would or should, who thinks that all the pieces are here, but somehow they’re just not fitting in. It seemed like I’d never have a taste of those great experiences and friendships I had always hoped for and heard about, but I have. I wish I could give you some advice or words of wisdom — I know I would have appreciated that — but I can’t. I also can’t promise you that things will turn out all right in the end. Beyond luck or providence, I can’t explain why this time has been given to me. Just know that there’s nothing exceptionally wrong with you and enjoy the good that does come your way.
Notre Dame isn’t a perfect place — no place is. And these kinds of moments don’t happen at this university alone. But Notre Dame is a special place, and the people here are some special people, and I am grateful that I got to know that for myself by the end. Thank you.