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What makes Notre Dame special

| Friday, May 15, 2015

What is it about Notre Dame that makes this place so special and so beloved?

This is a question I have grappled with for years. It started when I was applying to colleges, and deep down, I knew Notre Dame was the place I wanted to go, even though I hardly mentioned it to others, and my visit there was far from ideal (snow in April will tend to do that).

It’s a question I asked as I struggled through my freshman year, seeking to find if I would ever fit in here, and as I became more comfortable in my sophomore and junior years, to the point where I’d dread leaving the University even for just a few days.

And it’s a question I was recently asked as I showed a prospective freshman around campus. He later committed here, but I don’t think it was my scatterbrained answer that convinced him. And it got me thinking all over again.

Now, I could simply answer this question with Lou Holtz’s quote about the mystique of Notre Dame, but that would be a Notre Dame cliché, and my attempts at being a journalist the last four years have taught me that clichés drag down a story.

Therefore, I will appeal to the investigative reporting side of journalism and provide potential solutions — ok, anecdotal evidence — that might tackle this question.

What makes Notre Dame special is what partially drew me to the University originally — the culture, particularly in regards to campus life, is different. Where else can you live in the same building for four years surrounded by people of all different years, majors and backgrounds? Sure, there are drawbacks to residence life here, but there’s also a unique sense of camaraderie and identity that results, particularly when you live on the fringes of Chicago’s eastern suburbs — shoutout to Carroll Hall.

Similarly, I’ll never know what human or computer decides the living arrangements at Notre Dame, but I must say they do a pretty darn good job. It never ceases to amaze me how groups of 18-year olds randomly thrown together end up developing what promise to be life-long friendships.

What makes Notre Dame special is what caused me to look up some transfer applications my freshman year — the people here are accomplished, and I got a much-needed dose of humility that year. As I went along, however, I found that many of these same people are down-to-earth and willing to lend a hand. Despite my freshman rationalizations, I also found that there is a niche here for everybody — finding it comes in the form of a class you’d never thought you’d enjoy, feedback from a professor or editor or even a compliment from a classmate.

What makes Notre Dame special is what helped me feel more ingrained in the community as I became an upperclassmen — it offers so many opportunities. From walking through Trafalgar Square every day on my way to class in London to reporting on the improbable men’s basketball run to the Elite Eight this season to making a presentation before the former president of Ireland in my last undergraduate class, I went some places and experienced some things I never expected.

And these were just some broad categories that covered my life at Notre Dame. I could go on and on about the little things — walking past the Dome, visiting the Grotto in the snow, late-night trips to Steak n’ Shake, playing sand volleyball on Carroll’s lawn, attending some incredible sporting events — that really do encapsulate what life is like at Notre Dame.

I fully realize that the reasons why I find Notre Dame to be special are probably not universal. My experience is different from that of the person next to me, and there are over 2,000 different stories that could be told this senior week.

But these stories, as varied as they may be, had the combined effect of making this campus a home. And perhaps that is what most sets this unique place apart.

Brian Hartnett is graduating with a degree in marketing, as well as a minor in the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. After being a resident of Carroll Hall for four years and spending most of his free time in The Observer office the past year, he’s looking forward to actually seeing the sun and having a shorter commute to work. Tweet all questions, comments and concerns to @BrianGHartnett

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

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About Brian Hartnett

Brian Hartnett is a senior marketing major and journalism, ethics and democracy minor. The Carroll Hall resident hails from Clark, New Jersey and covers Notre Dame football, as well as other University topics.

Contact Brian