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Grateful for role models

| Friday, May 18, 2018

I can’t believe how quickly these four years have flown by.

With graduation set for Sunday, I — like just about every other senior — have been doing a lot of thinking about that time. I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the future.

When I first got to Notre Dame, I remember feeling a lot of pressure to do something “great” with my life. We’re told early on that we have a sort of responsibility to do something “great” and make a difference in the world. And we’re told that there’s a path to follow, a resume that needs to be built in order to accomplish it.

Well, I didn’t exactly follow that path. I spent most of my summers caddying and at home with family instead of pursuing a big internship. I didn’t pursue a significant research opportunity academically, despite that being the norm for the programs I was in.

For a long time, I felt like I was squandering the opportunity of being here.

But now, when I look back on my time here, I no longer feel like that’s the case. And I feel like that’s largely because of the lesson I’ve learned since then.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the people who have had the greatest impact on my life — the people I consider heroes who have achieved “greatness.”

And frankly, the people I think about aren’t the ones who filled out the most impressive resume. They aren’t the ones who “changed the world” in a traditional, big-picture sense. That’s not to say those people don’t have an impact or go on to do great things, but it does mean they’re not the only ones.

I think of my parents. I don’t know if I will have ever better role models in my life than them. They help people every day with their jobs, but it’s the things they’ve done and don’t get recognized for which I’m in awe of. They’ve sacrificed so much in the last two years for my youngest brother, helping him through the toughest time of his life. There have been so many challenges along the way for them — most of which they wouldn’t want me writing about in detail — but they’ve never given up. And because of that, my brother will graduate from high school this Sunday, a reality which seemed like an improbability not too long ago.

I think of my roommate of three years, Tommy Clarke. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone as selfless and as good-hearted as he is. He taught me that simply bringing a smile to someone’s face when you see them can change someone’s day, making a difference. He taught me that “changing the world” can be as simple as bringing someone stuck in the library with you at 3 a.m. a piece of candy to show them they’re not alone.

Hoping to be more like those role models, I’ve tried to emulate their example. I can think of countless others who have similarly changed the way I define being great — the way I’ve been told to think of it — and I’ve tried to follow their lead, too.

And for me, The Observer was always the one place where I could do take those lessons and try to be great in my own way.

I was lucky enough to be surrounded by journalists way more talented than myself — on my Ed Board alone this past year, our Managing Editor will be interning at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Chicago Tribune this summer and fall, respectively; one of our Assistant Managing Editors will be with the Boston Globe; and our News Editor — who I would say has become my best friend and deserves a special shoutout for everything I’ve learned from her — will be with the Philadelphia Inquirer. Every day, they and so many others impressed me with their dedication and ability. Not a journalist by nature or in the program, I was able to learn from the best.

Most of all, they allowed me to just be myself instead of someone I wasn’t. I made my contributions through enthusiasm and selfless dedication because that was how I thought I could make a difference. I certainly wasn’t perfect in that, but I wanted to lead by example the same way my role models have.

Because I firmly believe now that this is how I can make a difference in this world. In fact, it’s one way I think anyone can really make a difference and change the world; because having an impact can be as simple as bringing a smile to someone’s face on a difficult day.

And now that my time at The Observer is over, I can look back on it and say I had an impact. I just hope that I’ve had as great an impact as so many people have had on me.

Ben Padanilam is graduating with a degree from the Program of Liberal Studies with minors in business economics, philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) and the Glynn Family honors program. He will spend the summer interning with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, writing for the Sports desk. Then, he will be returning to Notre Dame to attend the law school. He’ll miss the countless hours and friendships made working in the basement of South Dining Hall, but he’s thankful for the time he had. He can be contacted 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 Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

Contact Benjamin