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On Stonehenge and student behavior

| Thursday, September 17, 2015

It’s an excellent time to be a student at the University of Notre Dame. With fall looming, football booming and the promise of friends and fun times ahead, every Notre Dame student has something to look forward to. As one of those students, I’m very excited to be back. And just like other students, I like to have fun and observe traditions. Tradition is an enormous part of what makes the Notre Dame community so great. Many of these traditions are centered on football and game day.

As I passed by Stonehenge after our dominating win over Texas, many students were gathered in and around the fountain, cheering, screaming and playing in the water. It looked like a lot of fun. And I understand the sentiment; it was an exciting football win and the first home win for many freshmen and students new to campus. Part of me wanted to join the fun. And part of me was uncomfortable. Running through Stonehenge and celebrating inside the fountain is a tradition most students (if not all) know about. Why was I uncomfortable? Well that begins with something that a surprising amount of students don’t know: the history of Stonehenge itself.

Here’s some history regarding the fountain. Clarke Memorial Fountain (Stonehenge’s actual name) was dedicated in 1986 by John Shuff and Maude Clarke, in memory of her husband John, an Army Officer, and for all those Notre Dame graduates who had given their lives in service to our country. Specifically, the memorial honors the sacrifice of the 500 Notre Dame alumni who died in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Of the four arches in the fountain, three scroll the name of a war: World War II, Korea and Vietnam, with the fourth reading “Pro Patria et Pace,” which is Latin meaning “For Country and Peace.”

Just like any other student, I enjoy our traditions, and I love to have fun. I remember a Saturday night in November 2012 — Notre Dame had just defeated Wake Forest to move to 11-0 on the season and was ranked No. 3 in the country. Later that evening, both Oregon and Kansas State fell, moving Notre Dame to No. 1 in the country. Everyone in my dorm, myself included, rushed to Stonehenge to celebrate this monumental moment, a moment ND football hadn’t experienced in over two decades.

To be honest, as a brand new freshman, I had no idea even what the name of the fountain was, let alone that it was a war memorial. It was Stonehenge. And that’s it.

A memorial is meant to be a commemoration, a remembrance, unlike just a fountain, which is usually purely for aesthetic purposes. The Clarke Memorial Fountain is a way for the Notre Dame community, past and present, to remember and honor our students and alumni that have perished fighting for the freedoms that we enjoy on a daily basis, such as a football. The Clarke Memorial Fountain represents the strength and sacrifice of members of our own community, and it should be treated with solitude and reverence. Now, I can’t help but think celebrating a victory in a war memorial is sending the wrong message to anyone who happens to see it. It’s important to ask ourselves as a student body, what kind of message are we sending when celebrating inside the memorial? It’s not exactly an easy question to answer.  I’m not a veteran, but I do believe that many people can understand my concern: If just one veteran saw our celebration and was offended, I would be very embarrassed as a Notre Dame student.

I had the chance to talk to Kevin Burke, a Notre Dame student, resident of South Bend and Army veteran. I asked his opinion of the celebrations within Clarke Memorial Fountain to which he responded: “I think the idea of partying and climbing on a war memorial is disrespectful. This memorial helps remember and honor the service and ultimate sacrifice of our Notre Dame students. When it’s treated like a party zone or place to celebrate sporting events, it takes away from the purpose of the memorial. I don’t think students who party in Stonehenge realize that what they’re doing is disrespectful, but that doesn’t make it any less disrespectful.”

Burke was a member of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division. He served in Baghdad from 2007 to 2008, in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010 and returned to Afghanistan from 2012 to 2013.

I realize that advocating against partying in Stonehenge after football games is not the most popular opinion. Again, just like most students, I’m all for having fun and enjoying game day. Running around in a fountain after a big win with all my friends? Trust me, that sounds awesome. And I truly believe that no students mean any disrespect by celebrating in Stonehenge. But as a student body, we need to think about the bigger picture. I’m not advocating that we don’t try to have fun. I’m not trying to advocate that we throw out the tradition of celebrating around Stonehenge. I’m challenging us as a student body to think about how our actions can be perceived. I’m challenging us to think about what message we could be sending by climbing around and into a war memorial. Next time we win a big home game (Georgia Tech anyone?), I hope we think a bit more about what it means to be partying inside a memorial fountain.

I’d like to leave you all with this, the words of Fr. Hesburgh regarding Clarke Memorial Fountain in 1986. These words are inscribed on a plaque near the fourth column.

“About 500 Notre Dame Alumni gave their lives for their country and for Peace in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. In memorializing them, we join our prayers to their supreme sacrifice as we inscribe this column: Pro Patria et Pace, For Country and Peace. This is our Prayer, that all living Notre Dame Men and Women dedicate themselves to the service of their Country and World Peace.”

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

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