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A broken kind of love

| Friday, May 15, 2020

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

On March 5, I rolled my suitcase out of my apartment on Eddy Street without so much as a glance toward Notre Dame’s campus. My thoughts could only focus on the immediate days ahead, which would be filled with the beaming Cancún sun, piña coladas and lounging on steeped beach recliners with some of my closest friends. I’d be back in a week, anyway — admiring glances at the Dome and the purple-and-green roofed academic buildings could wait.

I waved goodbye to a fellow classmate as I lugged my suitcase to my Uber. Looking back, it’s probably the last time I’ll ever see him. In fact, there were a lot of lasts on that day.

It’d been a long first half of my senior spring semester. I’d just finished my term as Editor-in-Chief of The Observer a week before, and I had residual exhaustion coating my body. Finally, I could take a week without frantically checking my phone and emails for complaints or emergencies. No longer were the days of stressed panic and enlarged responsibility. “I deserve this vacation,” I thought to myself. “I need a break from this school.”

I landed in Dallas to spend a few days with family before heading off for paradise. I spent much of my free time on Twitter, noticing as my feed became saturated with reports of COVID-19. The fear began to trickle in, the days passing like a ticking time bomb. “But no cases yet in St. Joseph County, at least,” I reminded myself. “Everything will be fine.”

And then came Harvard’s announcement. “Virtual instruction,” it said. The others followed soon after.

I knew it was coming. But it wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Since the moment I stepped onto Notre Dame’s campus as a nervous, jittery freshman, I heard about the traditions that make the University the place it is. “Steeped in tradition” is a phrase often used. It’s a place where you’re not allowed to step foot in the grass on God Quad or you’ll fail your second theology class. It’s a place where you can’t climb the Main Building steps or you won’t graduate. It’s a place you’ll one day leave in cap-and-gown with all who worked and laughed and cried alongside you for four years, reflecting on and celebrating the growth you’ve accomplished and memories made together.

But that one day was ripped from us in emails numbering no more than a few hundred words. The sentences are still ingrained in my mind, playing in a constant loop. “Campus closed, graduation moved online, commencement ceremony rescheduled to May 2021.”

The last four years, I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know my class. I met them through courses and activities. I recorded their stories as a news reporter, and then as editor of The Observer. I knew they were just like me, learning and growing and overjoyed at times but depressed at others. No matter the challenges thrown our direction, we were with each other every step of the way, taking advantage of every opportunity during the “best four years of your life,” as we were frequently told by friends and relatives. 

If I could go back to that moment on March 5 in which I excitedly tossed my suitcase into the back of an Uber and neglected to look toward Notre Dame’s campus, I would. I’d spend time taking in the buildings, the curved pathways leading up to the Golden Dome, the green grass often coated with snow and the lined trees beckoning “welcome home.” I’d hug those I left behind for a little longer, show my appreciation to those who helped me grow. Instead of thinking, “I need a break,” I’d think, “Thank you.”

But the fact of the matter is, I can’t. And that’s OK.

Because when I think about it, nothing was ever perfect during the last four years.

When I first entered Notre Dame, I saw everything through a haze. Everything was bright and shiny and new. I felt proud to be here. More importantly, I was finally, at long last, independent. I thought nothing could go wrong; nothing could taint my picture-perfect view of the school I’d long dreamed of attending.

I couldn’t have expected that through my growth over the years, that Notre Dame haze would gradually shatter.

I love this school. But it’s a broken kind of love. The type you look back on and see a jumbled mess of joy, pain, tears, heartbreak, anger, excitement, laughter, regret. A love that invokes an unparalleled sense of nostalgia upon reflection because everything I felt, I felt deeply. I look back, and I see a journey — one that was hardly ever perfect and almost always a little messy.

When that weekend comes in May 2021, life will be different. Many of us will be different. Our country will still be feeling the lasting impact of COVID-19. Many of us will not have seen each other for over a year. Those memories that my class is meant to celebrate will be slightly faded from months and months gone by. This is a reality I’m slowly learning to accept for myself and all others in the class of 2020.

But through these unsettling realizations and difficult adjustments, one constant that’s remained is we’re all in this together, just as we were through every milestone moment of the last four years.

Kelli Smith is graduating with degrees in political science and film, television and theatre with a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. She will spend the next few months reporting on all things Chicago as a Don Wycliff Fellow with The Chicago Tribune. She’ll miss the late nights doing journalism things with friends in the basement of South Dining Hall, but overall she’s thankful she had the opportunity to do so in the first place. She 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 Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she served as Editor-in-Chief at The Observer for the 2019-20 term. She is pursuing majors in political science and television with a minor in journalism. // Twitter: @KelliSmithNews

Contact Kelli