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Dear Notre Dame,

| Monday, April 16, 2018

This isn’t going to be a sentimental letter. No. I promise. After all, this is coming on the eve of my first year being over. This isn’t graduation (do not even say the words “25% done”).

So, like I said, this isn’t going to be a sentimental letter. It’s a love letter of sorts, you could say. A thank you.

I told myself I would write this letter from the beginning of the year, incorporating bits and pieces of lessons and whatnot that freshman me learned this year. So, off the script and writing as I go I guess, here it is.

Notre Dame, I knew as soon as I stepped onto your campus that I would call you home the next four years of my life. My sister was in the midst of her Welcome Weekend events, and fresh off the twenty-three-hour drive from New Mexico, high school senior me stood in awe. I’m not really sure what it was about you that took me in so much. Maybe it was the rush of a sea of people, the massive stadium talks, the history of dramatic sports. Perhaps. Metaphorically disguised in the blue and gray clouds above you I could taste a challenge. You can play hard to get, and I was ready to pour myself in and play the game of your machinations. Okay, slightly less diabolically, I could tell that you cared. For every professor, student and administrator I spoke to, it was the same thing. “Notre Dame doesn’t just educate you academically,” they would say. “It changes you from the heart and fundamentally changes the way you see the world.” And then came that perennial cliché-yet-true phrase every freshman here hears over and over during Welcome Weekend: when you come here, you become a member of the Notre Dame family.

Dean Hugh Page’s speech during my sister’s orientation really stood out to me and was a massive factor in convincing me you were the school I would choose. Dean Page exemplified the multi-faceted nature your education affords its students, and the various elements of a person, mind to soul, religious self to physical self, that you sculpt and cultivate. It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul and seeing you through the eyes of Dean Page opened me up to your potential, a potential that could be realized only if one is fully committed to the joys and struggles you offer. I apologize. The dome is the window to the soul.

Let me briefly take a step back. I’m not like most freshmen here. I am Cherokee and a Sephardic Jew from a very different socioeconomic background than most of my peers. My grandfather jumped ship in Ellis Island and came to the United States illegally many years ago. There were times where that context made it hard during my first year. The class of 2021 is 68% white and while we have endless diversity councils and cultural appreciation weeks, there is still an underlying mentality here. There is work that could be and is being done. The reality is that when many of my friends, who spent their breaks on the coasts or overseas, would ask where I went, I would answer that I went to the luscious and beach-filled tropical paradise of New Mexico. We get 14 inches of rain there, by the way. That’s half of what South Bend gets, and dramatically less than the Bahamas. We do have green chile, however. You should visit me sometime.

One of the things about you is that you try very hard to be inclusive against these “odds.” I still appreciate the Seder dinner at Coleman-Morse and the occasional potato pancakes in South. Even though there are 20 students out of the 8,000 plus in our entire undergraduate class who are Jewish, you still care enough to make everyone included. I have written before about how I still feel welcome in your culture even though I am not Catholic.

Notre Dame, there’s just something about you. And no, I’m not talking about your ultra-burned Recker’s pizza crust, or the Nile waters running through Debartolo Hall. I’m talking about the struggle, the joy, the happiness, the success, the stress, the difficulty, the amazing sense of what it means to bleed blue and gold. There are so many little moments in my first year that I want to thank you for, little moments that are the threads in the tapestry of my first year here. I won’t keep you long. In my next letter, I want to write a bit about those moments that really made my first year the memorable experience it was. The conversations with professors and some amazing individuals that fundamentally changed the way I viewed the world. The mischief my friends pulled on each other, all abiding by du Lac, of course. This conversation isn’t over yet and keep an eye out for the next letter I send you. And please, if it possible, end the April snow and give this desert vagabond some scorchers.

 

Sincerely,

Gabriel Niforatos

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

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