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Let the light of Notre Dame lead you

| Friday, May 16, 2014

Dr. Tom Dooley, a Notre Dame student in the 1940s who worked as a doctor in Southeast Asia, wrote a letter to Father Hesburgh, who had it engraved and placed by the grotto. Dooley wrote, “Notre Dame is twice on my mind . . . and always in my heart. That Grotto is the rock to which my life is anchored.  Do the students ever appreciate what they have, while they have it?”

Of course, it is nearly impossible to gauge the full impact of a Notre Dame education and the experience of the last four years. I imagine that it is an impact we may never truly appreciate until our final moments ¾ recognizing the spark of a lifelong journey of formation. For all of the walks around the lakes, the moments spent with friends and the time engulfed in studies and extracurricular activity, it is hard to enumerate or even begin to outline the manifold experiences.

But perhaps this is best. Because the student experience at Notre Dame is sacred. The relationships we have formed over the last four years are sacred. And the mission and drive to be a powerful force for good in the world is sacred. Experiences, relationships and purpose are the flames of our existence at Notre Dame.

At its best, Notre Dame is a reflection of the other-oriented lens that fulfills a goal of the University’s mission statement: “The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.” It is ultimately an other-oriented lens through which we must address our actions in life, a lens to be enhanced by the sacred and profound, not blinded by their radiance. It is a vision of religion as a path to God and in service to God through service to other human beings, not in spite of other human beings. The necessary vision must be that “the least of these” refers to each of us at one time or another.

My four years have taught me that students will fight for their fellow students. I’ve learned here that change comes when students say enough. We don’t believe that Fr. Sorin’s pledge to be the greatest force for good was simply lofty language or mythical rhetoric. We believe that the Notre Dame experience should not be based on characteristics such as race, sexual orientation and gender identity, documentation or socioeconomic status. We believe in Notre Dame because Notre Dame houses a student body that cares and because its mission goes further than preparing individuals simply for modern conceptions of success beyond campus.

“No man is an island,” proclaimed John Donne. At least, none should be ¾ not in our successes, our failures, our joys or our agonies. As human beings, we do have our moments of solitary experience. But the island paradise we seek is found in other human beings. And it can be found at Notre Dame.

The candle was lit at Notre Dame, but let it burn deeply and brightly throughout our lives.  It is a light of purpose and sacredness, a light whose flicker only indicates the lingering desire to act and to put faith into action. The flames of these experiences may continue on as we stay in touch and reminisce. But forever, we will have lit the candle at Notre Dame.

As Reinhold Neibuhr wrote, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love.” In the next chapter of our lives, we must continue to seek every opportunity to affirm our belief and faith in our fellow human beings, to hope and to love.

The last four years at Notre Dame won’t be the best of our lives. They will simply be.  They are a set of experiences that deserve no qualifications. Any attempt to quantify or qualify the experiences of the past four years will diminish their significance. Some things are best left unsaid, because they were best lived. They’ll be memories that last as long as we can keep them. And as we move on to the next chapter, no experience in the last four years can be touched. The last four years were ours, class of 2014. Here’s to the next experience.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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