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For prospective students

| Thursday, April 4, 2019

This past weekend I spent much of my Saturday night trying to indoctrinate prospective students on the Reilly Spring Visit. As I talked to the (hopefully) future Fighting Irish, I realized with a start that my freshman year is almost over. Talking to the prospective students, I was transported back to April of my own senior year, when I was still unsure of where I’d be going to college. I remember the exciting feeling that the entire world was my oyster, that any of these schools could be my home. I remember the questions I had, the concerns that now seem silly. I am both comforted and amused to find their questions remain much the same as mine. I am both comforted and concerned to find I now know many of the answers.

How Catholic really is Notre Dame? Will I stick out if I’m not Catholic?

As a prospective student, I was told I wouldn’t notice Notre Dame’s being Catholic. Looking back, I feel a little silly for believing this. There is a giant mural of Jesus and a nineteen foot statue of the Virgin Mary on the dome. Notre Dame is most definitely a Catholic university.

That being said, I’m rarely excluded as a non-Catholic. I was really worried I’d spend Sunday nights alone in my dorm room while the entire school went to Mass. This has been a non-issue. Of my friends, several are not Catholic and many are not practicing.

The biggest impact of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity is the sense of a greater responsibility beyond education. For some people, this responsibility is spiritual and they spend their four years becoming the best Christian, Jew or Muslim they can be. For some, this responsibility is to the community; they spend four years going on Appalachia seminars or helping at the food bank. Some crusade for human rights and equality. Notre Dame cares about students as more than students. It cares about us as individuals, as people who are going to change the world, not just get good grades.

Is Notre Dame super conservative?

Hailing from a very conservative high school where I once got laughed at for believing in women’s equality, my biggest fear was another four years of not being able to wear my “Barack ‘n Roll” t-shirt without facing ridicule. Rest assured, Barack has made multiple appearances, all without any rotten tomato hurlings or exclamations of disgust from passersby.

Rather, I’ve found my time at Notre Dame has made me more conscious of respectful discourse. Notre Dame is more conservative than most colleges, which means it’s right in the middle. Because I don’t know how people align, I’m forced to approach every interaction carefully, being respectful of all beliefs when I talk. I can’t blindly praise one school of thought without doing my research. I have to know what I’m talking about because the opposition will call me out if I don’t. And that is a good thing.

At Notre Dame, I’m constantly confronted with people who think differently than I do. I’m able to consider new perspectives, to realize where I’ve been lazy in my beliefs, where I’ve just followed the bandwagon on an issue. Many people agree with ideas from both sides of the spectrum, making it impossible to make blanket statements about what a pro-life person is or a feminist or a socialist. Notre Dame has made me a more informed citizen of the world.

What is winter? Am I just gonna be sad all the time?

Well, well, well … the million dollar question. To quote a text I, a Southern California native, sent at 9:18 p.m. on April 28, 2018, “I feel like I’ll be able to handle cold and snow, but gloomy skies seem like a real bummer.” How right you were, young Julianna, how right you were.

Here’s the secret about weather, you’re eased in. When I was cold in 40-degree weather last April, I was unable to fathom living in single digits. I didn’t realize you grow accustomed to it over time. In running a marathon you don’t sit on the couch one day and run 26 miles the next. You build up. Similarly, you aren’t plunged from eighty degree shorts weather to the polar vortex. The temperature drops little by little.

Yes, the overcast weather is a bummer, but every permacloud has a silver lining. Without leaves on the trees, I can see the dome from my dorm window. When the sun comes out, quads are filled with Frisbees and picnics. When it snows, the school looks like a winter wonderland. When the leaves changed color, I walked everywhere beaming because it felt like a movie.

The permacloud is dreary. Walks from your dorm to Jenkins-Nanovic are cold. The seasons are spectacular.

What is social life like? Do dorm communities live up to the hype?

With formals, signature events and a startling prevalence of Greek letters on sweatshirts, I like to think of the residence halls as mandatory Greek life — in some ways a terrifying idea. During Welcome Weekend, a shyer boy described dorm initiation with an almost comedic level of horror. Another bemoaned the constant parties down the hall. At another school, these may be non-issues. People who don’t want Greek life simply wouldn’t rush.

Still, in many regards, I think “mandatory Greek life” is a stellar idea. The administration is smart to allow on-campus parties so naive freshmen don’t have to wander off-campus to find fun. I love that I was automatically accepted into a community without having to jump through hoops or girl-flirt with strangers. I love that almost all students live in the dorms, keeping the heart and soul of Notre Dame on campus. I love that any given weekend there’s a host of activities for students to choose from. I love that you don’t stick out if you like going out or like staying in.

A lot of people are bothered by the three-year on campus policy, and I realize the economic complications are real. But I also realize we have our entire lives to live off campus. We only have four to live at Notre Dame.

So people actually like the dome?

My biggest kept secret: I hated the dome when I visited. My only defense is that it was the first time I ever saw a landscape of trees without leaves and I had low blood sugar the entire time. Still, it’s hard to believe I almost didn’t come to Notre Dame because I thought the architecture was “depressing.”

Here’s what I’ve since learned — everywhere looks worse with bare trees. To quote a senior I carpooled from the airport with, “Once they drain the reflection pool, it’s over.” But when you arrive in August, the entire campus is covered in thick, leafy foliage (and every fountain is filled with water). You hardly notice the actual buildings. By the time the trees are bare, you’ve already fallen in love with school and care more about the people in the buildings. They’re what make Notre Dame special, not Gothic architecture or blooming flowers. It’s the people you come back to who make Notre Dame feel like home.

As I’ve moved through my freshman year, the nit-picky concerns have faded away. Instead, I’m left wowed by the wonder of our university. I am left awed by the brilliance of my classmates. I am left with an allegiance to the Fighting Irish that will go far beyond my four years here.

For any prospective students who, like me, read the newspaper when they visit a school, here is my advice to you:

When making a college decision, remember it’s a big one. Little decisions you make with your head: choosing between jackets, deciding which event to attend — those situations you look at logically, weigh the pros and cons, analyze the responsible route. Big decisions are made with your heart: getting married, choosing a job, deciding on a college. It doesn’t matter which school has the lowest acceptance rate or where everyone thinks you should go. The feeling you get thinking about four years there matters. Whether you can imagine yourself roaming around and doing homework in the library and waving to your roommate across the quad, whether you look around and think “this is home.” That matters. What other people think about your school does not. You are the person who has to go there. You make the decision.

What helped me most, though, was thinking not of where I wanted to go, but where I didn’t want to not go. If you can imagine yourself anywhere, think of where you can’t imagine missing out on. That’s where you belong. I can’t wait to welcome you home to Notre Dame in August.

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

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