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One true home

| Friday, May 13, 2016

Several times over the past few weeks, people have posed the question, “Why did you choose Notre Dame?” The truth is, I didn’t. At least not directly.

I can recall the excitement and pride I felt over five years ago when I learned I was accepted to my top-choice school — the only one to which I applied — and that I would be coming to South Bend to study. I was not headed for the gilded campus of Notre Dame, but for the dome-shadowed place across the street. That’s right: Saint Mary’s.

There were many reasons why I chose Saint Mary’s. I was 15. As an all-women’s Catholic college, it presented a supportive environment for me to make my fledging flight. I’m not going to lie; the proximity to Notre Dame and its golden opportunities was certainly a draw as well. In fact, it was the 4-1 engineering program that cinched the deal for me. But I never understood how, in others’ eyes, Saint Mary’s offerings were diminished by comparison.

I was told from the start that the relationship between Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s was rocky. Alumni from both campuses filled me in on the slurs they had learned, and it was a main topic of warning pre-Domerfest for the SMC first years. My experience at both schools has been peppered with stories of discrimination and discord between the two: students perpetuating terms like “the Sluttle” to describe the intercampus bus; students decrying the intelligence or worth of others based on the institution they attend; even taxi drivers who would refuse to take Saint Mary’s students the extra minute to our campus, and certainly never before dropping off any other passengers at Main Circle.

The strongest example came out of the BCS National Championship ticket controversy. A sparse 2,500 tickets were made available for students, at a price discounted by 50 percent thanks to a generous donor. Saint Mary’s students were allowed to participate in the student ticket lottery. The response from a very vocal part of the Notre Dame student body could best be classified as ungenerous, though framed as righteous protest — even the Observer article, “Championship ticket tension,” from December 4, 2012, only heard Notre Dame students’ reactions.

That tension reverberated like an earthquake along the fault line of the Notre Dame-Saint Mary’s connection, and many students on the Belle side of the street were left wondering where we stood, or whether we mattered at all in the hearts and minds of those we considered our brothers and sisters. That was, incidentally, my first experience with hate mail — I received a personal attack to my inbox after attempting to present a reasonable argument, at least as much as anyone is able to via Internet comments. And I know I was not the only one to be intimately disparaged — to be tracked down, sought out and called stupid, along with much worse — for my educational choice.

I’ve taken classes — I’ve earned degrees — at both schools. The subjects I took at Notre Dame were harder, but the classes at Saint Mary’s were more challenging. There’s no ducking out of a discussion or hiding on your phone in the back of a classroom when the class is 12 people and the professor gathered in a circle to discuss the reading. When it comes time to present your senior comprehensive project, you’d better not have checked out with a case of senioritis, because the entire department is likely to show up in support.

What Notre Dame offered me was something bigger, but what Saint Mary’s offered was something more intense. They are both special. They are both wonderful. They are both different, certainly, but most importantly, they are both worthy of respect.

I don’t mean to disparage Notre Dame. I’m going to stand proudly in that stadium with the rest of my class, cheer with them and celebrate what we’ve achieved. Heck, maybe I’ll even get a little misty-eyed the next time I sing the Alma Mater. But as much as I’ll miss this place, there’s a part of me that is relieved to be going.

It’s the part that was never fully able to ignore the looks I received wearing Saint Mary’s logos on the Notre Dame campus — “she’s just here for the boys.” It’s the part that felt wearing my Saint Mary’s ring in my Notre Dame classes was making a statement, a small gesture of defiance against the stereotypes — “she’s not smart enough to go here.” It’s the part of me that’s torn between pride and justification when explaining that I am not a Saint Mary’s student anymore, that I graduated actually, but yes, I’m also a Notre Dame transfer student — “she’s only going there because she couldn’t get into Notre Dame; she’ll just transfer over in a year or two anyway.”

I’ve had an amazing experience at Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame, so intertwined I couldn’t separate them out. I would not be the person I am without the opportunities the schools have provided me, in tandem. While I’ll speak of both places with equal measures of pride and familiarity, when I say my last farewell this spring I’m leaving behind only one true home.

Tabitha Ricketts is graduating with a degree in computer science and a concentration in cybersecurity. She is moving to Washington D.C. to be a consultant, which is fancy-speak for “pay me and I’ll write code for you.” She welcomes applications for friendship at [email protected]

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

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About Tabitha Ricketts

As of this summer (2013), I hail from Clarkston, Michigan. I am a junior in the Saint Mary's College dual-degree engineering program, pursuing a degree in English Writing from Saint Mary's and Computer Science from the University of Notre Dame. I have written for the Saint Mary's News department of the Observer since my freshman year, and began working for Viewpoint last spring.

Contact Tabitha