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Find something important and do it

| Thursday, March 26, 2015

Like so many others, I too had my own memories of Fr. Hesburgh. I had heard a thing or three about him and his work leading up to my time at Notre Dame, but I distinctly remember seeing him at the opening freshman Mass. I remember my mom’s amazement at his schedule despite his age. I remember shaking his hand when my class had the opportunity to visit him on the 14th floor of the library. Like most, I will value my good fortune at having had the opportunity to meet him.

The truth of the matter, however, is that these meetings weren’t particularly important. As memorable as my encounters with him were, their impact is dwarfed by his contributions — to his school, religion, society, country and, in turn, me — made long before we met.

Much has been spoken and written, much more eloquently than I can, about the work of Fr. Hesburgh’s 97 years. And while I could retell stories and anecdotes that aren’t mine, summarize contributions I didn’t witness or remark on speeches I didn’t hear, I won’t. Rather, I’d like to talk about the lasting impression Fr. Hesburgh imparted upon me.

Fr. Hesburgh has done more than just grow Notre Dame’s endowment or enhance its academic rigor. Fr. Hesburgh’s lasting mark upon me, the thing that has allowed me to receive such an excellent education, is simple: to find something important and to do it.

In his remembrance of Fr. Hesburgh, Alan Simpson noted a credo that had helped guide their work together: “If you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he counseled, “then do.”

There are countless causes and issues in our world whose solving will require courage. But there are many more for which the solution is as simple as our attention.

A song on Pandora just told me to “do something with your life.” JFK asked what we could do for our country. My dad has told me to get off my ass. Regardless, the message is clear: We live on a planet not just in dire need of service but also in dire need of servants.

And yet too often we fail to serve this need. There are a myriad of opportunities to stand up. Yet we sit. There are countless chances to speak up. Yet we fall silent. For all that great men and women accomplish, there is so much more to be done.

The world is not built by those who passively gaze upon it but those who both see it as it is and envision it as it can be. Insofar as this world will change, let it be changed for the better. Insofar as this planet will be molded by its inhabitants, let it be by those among you with the heart and the mind to do good and to do so for many.

In his remarkable time on earth, Fr. Hesburgh, beyond all the anecdotes and supersonic plane rides, beyond his smile and beyond his powerful friendships, remained, most importantly, a servant. In his long life on this planet, he gave himself completely to the students he shepherded. Because of this, humanity has greatly benefited.

So thank you, Fr. Ted, for all that you’ve given to me, to this school and to this world. As one of the legion of people whose life you have irrevocably made better, I’m left with much gratitude and several lessons. One of the most important is this: If you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, you may as well do. Let’s give it a try.

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

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