Tom Naatz | Friday, May 15, 2020
As a three-and-a-half-year tour guide, I can basically recite the end of the admissions info sessions by heart. The final line in particular is seared in my memory. “When you come to Notre Dame,” the cheerful counselor — almost always an alumnus/alumna — begins, “you’re really not just coming here for four years. Notre Dame is with you forever. It’s four years for the rest of your life.”
As I’ve written about before, I am not the Notre Dame poster child. My road to South Bend was unexpected. I was never predestined to enroll at Our Lady’s University. In fact, I must confess that Notre Dame was a very late addition to my Common App. I didn’t fall head over heels for any school during my college application cycle — Notre Dame included. When I finally decided to enroll, rationality was the name of the game: I liked the school a lot, and it seemed the type of place I thought I could be happy. Plus, I have to admit, it was the best school I got into.
Four short years later, I full-heartedly endorse the decision I reached in April 2016. The experience had its ups and downs, but on reflection, it was the right choice for me. I made some lifelong friends, had some unforgettable experiences and now stand ready to enter the world as a well-prepared adult. For all of that, I offer Notre Dame my most profound thanks. I will always gaze upon my four years in South Bend fondly.
But now it’s time to make some forward progress. In other words, time for the class of 2020 to hit the road.
When the admissions office tells prospective students that Notre Dame is a lifelong choice, I think they mean to say Notre Dame is not the type of place you attend for four years and then immediately forget. The friends, the skills and the lessons we picked up along the way will be with all of us forever. But it is important to draw a critical distinction: Notre Dame should always be with us. We should not always be at Notre Dame.
I always loved walking across campus on the Thursday night before home football games. It’s the most special time on campus. The week is over, and the world is coming to South Bend. The air is electric with a frenetic glow. By the time I was a junior, however, these walks were imbued with a sense of sadness. Whether in line at the Huddle or at pre-game brunch in South Dining Hall, I realized I was passing by many of the same 35-to-70-year-old faces on a weekly basis.
“Don’t they have jobs?” I found myself wondering. “Hobbies? Kids who have soccer games? Leisure activities that don’t involve cross country travel?”
Just like anyone else, I am sad that my time at Notre Dame is over. My class faces a particularly acute strain of melancholy; it’s quite regrettable that our time together had to end the way it did. But that cannot be an excuse to pretend that college never ended.
College will always hold a certain allure in the narrative of life. At a school like Notre Dame, where people get especially attached to each other, that is particularly so. It’s a time of youth and freedom flush with possibilities. But college is a stop along the journey; it is not the final destination.
As we graduate, we all have our accomplishments to look back upon. Maybe you are graduating with Latin honors. Maybe you won some sort of award for service to the community. Maybe you aced that test you thought you bombed, or perhaps you led your team to RecSports glory.
Whatever glow these particularly memorable college experiences may carry, you will do bigger and better things with your life. You haven’t peaked yet. I completely understand the tendency to declare that there will never be another Notre Dame, that life will simply never reach the heights of the past four years. But that is the wrong conclusion to draw. The world beyond campus gates is so myriad, so huge that it is hard for us to fathom all of its possibilities. But we will never get to experience them if we try and stay cocooned in the Notre Dame bubble.
Plus, if we never venture forth then we are letting the school down. It’s pretty hard to be a global force for good if you never try your hand out there in the real world. As I write this, I am reminded of some wisdom Fr. Pete dropped during my Welcome Weekend when he quoted his mother as telling him, “I didn’t raise you to live in my basement.” To be honest, I imagine Notre Dame probably feels that way about all of the young alumni it sends out into the great beyond. The school didn’t spend all kinds of money housing us, feeding us and educating us just so we could become regular out-of-town visitors at Rocco’s.
Of course, none of this is meant to suggest that I won’t miss Notre Dame or that I will never return. It is always important to keep in touch with your roots. I am very excited to be a member of the Notre Dame community for the rest of my life. But if a Notre Dame junior recognizes me in 2050, I hope it is for something I’ve done with my life and not as the middle-aged alum they always walk past in the parking lot on game day.
So, I guess this is it: the last paragraph I’ll compose for The Observer. To everyone who has made my time at Notre Dame the incredible experience that it was, thank you. It was one hell of a ride. But the best is yet to come. To the friends who have become family, I look forward to sharing in the joys that a lifetime of experience will bring. God bless. Go Irish.
Tom Naatz is graduating with a degree in political science and Spanish with a minor in theology. He would like to thank his family for putting him through Notre Dame and his friends for sharing in the journey. If you ever want to talk politics, speak Spanish or share any potential leads about where he can launch his standup comedy career, shoot him an email at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.