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Life lessons from the class of 2011

| Sunday, August 30, 2015

The day was Sept. 1, 2007. It was about 85 degrees in the stadium, and Notre Dame was opening the season with a visit from Georgia Tech. It was also my first game as a student at Notre Dame.

The final score of the game was 33-3, with Georgia Tech decisively winning a game that was never really close. The student body’s overwhelming response to the loss was comedically ironic in hindsight: “Wow, Georgia Tech is really good this year!”(Georgia Tech went on to finish 7-6, and 4-4 in an underwhelming ACC; Notre Dame finished 3-9, the worst season on record in school history.)

Sept. 1, 2007 was the beginning of a truly unique four-year collective experience for one Notre Dame class. Amid the school’s thousands of alumni, living and dead, only one graduating class owns the title of being the losingest class in Notre Dame football history. That dubious distinction belongs to the class of 2011. My graduating class.

Like post-traumatic stress disorder, some experiences take months and even years to heal. Having now graduated more than four years ago, I believe I can finally look back and examine, with some degree of objectivity, how being in the class of 2011 has altered my perception of myself and my alma mater — something that has broadly occurred in two ways.

First, as many have experienced in other venues of life, you discover who your real friends are in times of trouble. Yes, I realize I’m talking about football and not about getting an infectious disease, but it holds true nonetheless. It defied belief how many of my high school “friends” basked in the epic dumpster fire that was Notre Dame football in 2007, taking every opportunity to rub it in my face that my team sucked on a historic level. And it went beyond typical sports trash talk; one friend of mine (whom I no longer speak to) even said that the season was cosmic retribution for “riding daddy’s coattails” into Notre Dame (my father had earned his MBA from Notre Dame in 1983, but notably, had donated exactly zero dollars to ND since graduating … still looking for those coattails).

Second, beyond figuring out who my real friends were, my experience at Notre Dame — in particular the 2007 season — allowed me to reexamine why I had gone to Notre Dame in the first place. Football had been a major reason why I went to Notre Dame. I’m not unique in this regard; any student who says Notre Dame football didn’t weigh heavily in their college decision is a liar. When you take football away, you’re left with a really snowy (like in a bad way, not a romantic way) Catholic school with a big gold dome in the middle of Nowhere, Indiana. I’m sure that many people will berate me for saying that, but there is a reason Notre Dame is Notre Dame and not one of the countless other interchangeable Catholic schools in this country. Spoiler alert: it’s because of football.

But in hindsight, the reexamination of my friends, of my university and of myself turned out to be just as formative for me as it was painful. I believe that I, along with the rest of the class of 2011, am now a fiercer advocate for my University and its football program than I ever would have been otherwise. I cheer even harder for Notre Dame, and not simply because I went there or because a sizable percentage of my clothes are blue and gold and that’s an enormous sunk cost, but because I’ve seen the bottom. I have stared into the football abyss and have felt the abyss staring back. I’ve felt the Weissian depths that have become the stuff of nightmares. And like a phoenix, I have risen with the football program from the ashes.  I don’t hear Mark May as much as I used to. I smile more on Saturdays during the fall. I sleep better. I think, dare I say it, that I’m happy.

As for my former friends, I have severed all contact entirely — though I continue to wish them the very best in their lives.  And by “best,” I mean a lifetime of immeasurable misery to the fullest extent of physical and emotional human suffering.

In conclusion, as the old saying goes, you can’t appreciate summer without winter. I think that holds especially true for the class of 2011. I hope my fellow classmates and I can rejoice in the collective triumph that we have all experienced over the last eight years. But at the same time, I hope we never get too complacent and lose the edge that makes our class so unique. I hope we never forget that summer, like all seasons, is temporary. Most importantly, I hope we never forget to remind future classes of an important truth: Winter is coming.


Parker Milender

class of 2011

July 17

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