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Why are you so whiny about your own school?

| Thursday, February 6, 2020

Perhaps the most common response I get to my columns is “Why did you even come here if you have so many complaints about Notre Dame?”

Nothing about this reaction surprises me. Notre Dame, more than many universities, attracts people like legacy students and lifelong fans of the football program. People who grew up going to Notre Dame football games in the fall, rooting for the basketball teams in the winter and attending their cousin’s graduation in the stadium in the spring. They bought into Notre Dame almost from birth.

What might surprise any frequent readers of my criticisms of the administration or the costs of being a student here is that I too am a lifelong fan of this university.

In fourth grade, my dad graciously agreed to paint my bedroom blue and gold. He found Notre Dame wallpaper trim to line the tops of the walls, put a green stripe in the center, and added “Play Like A Champion Today” in gold stenciling above my mirror. The room has since been painted over, as my sister took it over, but the stenciling and trim survive in my family’s basement. I ripped the Brady Quinn poster out of a Sports Illustrated for Kids issue in 2006 and it adorned my bedroom walls until I went off to college. I may have been the only kid in New York not to display the Derek Jeter side of the poster in favor of Quinn.

Freshman year of high school, when the Fighting Irish made the BCS title game against Alabama, I wore an entire Notre Dame outfit to school, including a beanie. I refused to take off the hat or allow my dad to turn off the game until it was completely over, desperately clinging to hopes of a comeback while Brent Musburger rambled on and on about the girlfriend of the Alabama quarterback. Whenever my high school’s student section had a neon-themed game, I showed up in a highlighter green Jack Cooley jersey, complete with the shorts, that Adidas designed for the men’s basketball team’s March Madness run one year. The closest I ever came to crying over sports was when Jerian Grant’s last second three hit the rim against Kentucky in the Elite 8 in 2015.

No one in my family went to school here. I had never set foot on campus until I was accepted the spring of senior year. And yet, there was something irresistible about the University.

On that Brady Quinn poster, I remember one of the facts about him was that he was enrolled in our “prestigious Mendoza College of Business.” As a sports-obsessed little kid who was made fun of in elementary school for being a nerd, reading that I could go to a place where it was not only normal, but encouraged, to be smart as well as good at other things was inspiring. Eight-year-old Ben decided on that day his goal was to go to Notre Dame and play football.

As I reached high school and found my football talents peaking on special teams rather than in the end zone, I doubled-down on academics and extracurriculars. I was fortunate enough to be accepted and never gave any other college serious thought when it came time to send in a deposit.

When you come to Notre Dame from a non-Notre Dame family, there are a lot of things you do not know before you start class in August. I had no idea what the dorm system meant. All I thought about as I waited for my assignment was that I did not want to be put in Carroll because it is so far away. I had to google the meaning of parietals when I noticed them on Alumni Hall’s website in July before freshman year and then struggled over fall and Christmas break to explain them to my high school friends. In my mind, SYR meant the Syracuse airport, not a dance. South Dining Hall looked a lot like Hogwarts. Hall of the Year still, to this day, feels like something from J.K. Rowling’s Twitter. I have used the same “a fraternity, but not really” metaphor to explain how dorm life works here to friends dozens of times. Same with “rectors are basically resident directors but cooler.” Consulting was a verb, not a career path, to me until I met students in Mendoza. ACE was a suit of cards, not a viable option for post-grad plans.

There were plenty of fun firsts as well. It took all of two days for me to buy into the idea that my hall is better than every other hall. Painting my chest and waiting outside the stadium for four hours for the Michigan State game was seen as normal. The South Quad snowball fight at the end of every fall semester was a great surprise. Interhall sports filled the void us unathletic types immediately felt when we walked off the field from our last game of high school sports. Walking around an airport with Notre Dame gear guarantees me at least one enthusiastic “Go Irish!” no matter where in the world I find myself.

But the biggest fun surprise was how impressed everyone seemed when I told them I went to Notre Dame. Those reactions, from friends or complete strangers, taught me the biggest thing I did not know about Notre Dame before I enrolled: This university means something to a lot of people, and now that I am forever a part of Notre Dame, it is my job to represent it in the best way possible. And sometimes the best way to show you love something is to work to make it better.

So yes, I love Notre Dame. I also think tuition is far too high. Parietals are outdated and sexist. The admissions department needs to work harder to enroll more minority students. On-campus housing is far too expensive, the dorms are unequal and a housing mandate is unfair to many students. But this is my university and I am proud to go here, so I want to work to make it better. Right now, the only way I know how is to write about the issues I recognize and try to draw attention to them.

In the future, hopefully I will be able to do more. But I will always Love Thee Notre Dame.

Ben Testani is a senior studying international economics, Arabic and Spanish. He comes to Notre Dame via Central New York and while currently residing off campus, will always be a proud Alumni Dawg. He welcomes feedback at [email protected] or @BenTestani on Twitter.

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

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