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The most daring census of Notre Dame

| Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Insert name, dorm, major. Smile, shake the hand of the person you met in class, in the dining hall or at LaFun during game day and walk away. 10 minutes later, you’ll be scratching your head, completely unsure of who the person you just met was. You’ll desperately scan the bleachers at the football game for the befreckled face of your new soulmate, but it will be to no avail. Another Notre Dame introduction, another example of the impossibility of words. 

And so, with this difficulty in mind, I have surveyed the Notre Dame student body myself to get a better picture of who we are. Forget the Campus Climate Survey, the Health and Wellness Survey, the emails about how you spent your summer and read the most daring census of Notre Dame demographics ever conducted right here. The sample: your very own notes, scrawlings, doodles and bits of advice found on the tables and cubicles of Hesburgh Library. This survey was conducted at painstaking length to control for social desirability and question bias, in large part because the objects I questioned were ancient wooden pieces of furniture that cannot speak. However, they obviously speak to you. And so, based off the ancient techniques of polling methodology, I will paint a picture of the average Notre Dame student from what I found in my study of these notes and drawings (absolutely not a biased sample, mind you.) 

Sidestepping material and drawings that are not appropriate, here is a completely accurate, fool-proof snapshot of several categories I found in my meta-analysis. What you are about to read is the true psyche of an average Notre Dame student:

Identity: The obligatory name, major (exclusively accompanied by a heart or an expletive — there is no in between) and name can still be seen in the cubicles. However, I have found that there are only two majors at Notre Dame: engineers and philosophy majors. Between the stacks and upon the tables, I have found countless notes telling me the meaning of life, from flowery expletives to Walt Whitman “Songs of Myself” quotes and days of springtime and sunshine. I have seen Rembrandts and Renoirs constructed with chemical formulas: love notes to chemical engineering. On the other hand, there are notes about engineering finals that are scrawled so furiously into the sides of cubicles that it looks like the Mariana Trench was gouged into them. The notes regarding Philosophy are a bit different. In between the notes which state something of the variety of “[insert name] took Nietzsche to the Dome Dance” or “Good luck with your Logic final, Class of 1989,” one can find the powerful words of sages unnamed in the student body. The ancient Greeks climbed mountains thousands of feet high to converse with prophets and oracles regarding the word of the Gods. Imagine their dismay if I could somehow tell them a short hike of seven floors could reveal all the secrets of life, death and where Fr. Jenkins really lives just for good measure. 

Hall pride: Flaherty is the best hall. Furiously scratch this out. Zahm is the best hall. Break your pencil and scratch this out. Zahm. Lewis. Dillon. If you didn’t know already, hall pride is alive and well at Notre Dame, and if you see your hall slandered on the sides of cubicles, rest be assured there is an army of pens and pencils ready to defend Carthage and storm the gates of Rome with you (I am most certainly not admitting that a certain anonymous author wrote “Duncan Hall, best hall” somewhere between floors 7-9, because that would be admitting a conflict of interest for my survey.) 

Disjointed conversations: sketches of “I did it,” “They’ll never find it” and “Why did you do that” all sound like the various pieces of a high-profile interrogation. I swear that if you put all of these sentences together across all of the floors in Hesburgh, you would solve every code and mystery that exists. Who is really being painted in the Mona Lisa? What is really on the third floor of Hesburgh? The answers to these enigmas and more are encrypted on the surfaces of the tables and cubicles.

Love’s Labors Lost: Did Jake and Emily make it? Did the heart on floor five with not one, not two, but three iron arrows affixed to it represent the tribulations of Capulet and Montague, the difficulties of love but the triumph of passion? The wooden cubicles act like a projector screen for the enthused daydreamer, a place where one can travel back in time to days when you would scratch your initials in tree trunks and reminisce of summertime sadness. 

Go Irish: Just… go Irish. 

I wonder what it is about old wooden cubicles that make people break out of their comfort zone so effectively. Perhaps it’s empathy. “Not all who wander are lost” can be found on floor 12, and there are infinite good luck notes encouraging the fellow sojourner to get through finals or a rough midterms week. Perhaps it’s the feeling you get when you are the only soul on floor 10 (yes, floor 10) at 3 a.m. in the morning and have half of a paper written. Either way, the greatest soundboard I have ever found is that of the old wooden cubicle in the Tower of Babel called Hesburgh Library. 

The biggest takeaway from my survey of the incredibly cooperative cubicles and tables of Hesburgh Library (I report a 100% response rate to my questions) is that each and every one of us has character and a story worth reporting and sharing. Don’t feel like the only canvas you have for expression is three feet by three feet wide, barely enough room for your computer and two books. If I can say anything about Notre Dame students, it’s that they are unashamed and unabashedly unafraid to vocalize their opinions when this takes the form of a note, drawing or doodle in the foggy heights of Hesburgh Library. Every university has their very own “library comments” section, and Notre Dame’s is biting, sarcastic, insensitive at times, but undeniably Irish with a heart of gold. The important finding is not the quality or the content of the notes and drawings I found, but the mere fact that they exist. So, get out of the library and don’t be afraid to be yourself in a world that desperately needs authenticity. And to the unnamed Oracle of Delphi who wrote, “you do not stare into the abyss, it stares into you” on floor 8, I want to meet you.

Gabriel Niforatos is a junior majoring in political science with a minor in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at [email protected] or @g_niforatos on Twitter.

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

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