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Thank you for the tradition

| Friday, May 15, 2020

Reminiscing with a friend the other day, I recalled my first Moreau session at Notre Dame. I remember it was hot that day. Or maybe I was just sweating from first day of school nerves. Either way, I was a mess. I walked in, and the professor asked, “You another Zahm guy?” I absorbed none of what he had asked. After an awkward stumble and a confused silence, I responded, “Excuse me?” He repeated his question. I again absorbed nothing. I couldn’t make out the Z word he kept saying. I didn’t know if he was speaking another language or if I was having a mild stroke. Like I said, it was hot that day. But thankfully someone soon saved me. “It’s a dorm,” she said, condescendingly I might add, from the back of the room. I’m assuming she decided to step in on account of the cutting secondhand embarrassment everyone in that room must have been feeling. And I’m confident she thought I was a moron. But I was thankful. That being said, it wasn’t the greatest start to college. I remember wondering how soon transfer applications were due.

I offer this story because, as many of you know, for a student who isn’t legacy and may know very little about Notre Dame prior to coming here, it can be an intimidating change of environment. I didn’t look forward to Notre Dame my whole life. Through sports, I knew of the Fighting Irish, but I wasn’t a fan. I applied at the 11th hour, only because my parents agreed to pay for a few more applications after I raised my SAT score. Still, I vividly remember getting my acceptance letter. A few friends and I had scored tickets to some first-round games of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, and after school, we headed straight from the west side of Manhattan to the Barclays Center. Soon after Notre Dame tipped off against Michigan that night, I got my email from the admissions office. What seemed a funny coincidence at first actually convinced me to look more into the University, but it’s tough to catch up on such a long and robust tradition with just a few Google searches. 

So, upon my arrival, I had a number of surprises that I’m sure most of the students in my position had. First, I was shocked by how many guys and girls had moms and dads who went here, or grandpas, or great, great uncles. Second, I was shocked by how much people already knew about the school. I didn’t know any of the dorm names, let alone how many there were. I didn’t know that South Bend was basically in Michigan. But most of all, I was just unfamiliar with the tradition which Notre Dame prides itself on. And when faced with this community, one which seemed to have such a steadfast tradition, you start to wonder if you can even join. Would I fit into this tradition? If not, is the community flexible enough for me to take part in it? Of course, now I know those concerns were foolish. Because once you settle in, it’s easy to realize the tradition is one which, however old and however prideful, is a living tradition, shaped each year by a new class, new ideas and new world events. And most of all, it’s a welcoming tradition, one which, if you can open yourself up to it, presents you with a world of opportunity, as it did to me.

My studies in the College of Arts and Letters gave me the opportunity to engage with some of the most inspiring thinkers, both classmates and professors, I’ve ever met. I found a love for literature which I didn’t truly know until I arrived in South Bend. I felt truly pushed. I felt as if my professors cared about my intellectual potential, and that inspired a confidence I couldn’t have found somewhere else. 

I got the chance to study for an entire semester in London. I’d never been out of the country, and I didn’t plan on doing it any time soon before Notre Dame. I didn’t plan on being able to see everything I saw and meet everyone I met. And I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity had it not been for that tradition. Frankly, I wouldn’t have even applied for the opportunity had it not been for that tradition.

I got to meet some of the best friends of my life. To both my friends from Siegfried Hall and my friends from that semester abroad, I thank you for shaping my experience at Notre Dame for the better.

And then there’s this very platform, The Observer. I never planned on shooting for a leadership position at The Observer. To be honest, I signed up because my first winter in South Bend left me feeling kind of bored. I remember meeting with Ben Padanilam, the incoming Editor-in-Chief at the time. He was quick to temper my expectations — I wouldn’t be covering football right away. Instead, I’d be on men’s golf. He ended up actually raising my expectations. I love golf, and I was shocked they’d let me write a story so quickly. From there, I got the chance to experience some events that I’ll never forget. Plus, my experience with other people at The Observer inspired an appreciation for journalism that I didn’t have before. For all of that, I thank everyone who makes The Observer a reality and all who gave me the opportunity to be a part of it. 

I really don’t like getting sentimental. In fact, I put off this column until the last minute for that very reason. And it’s especially hard to do so considering the unfortunate ending to my class’ time at Notre Dame. But looking back, it’s hard not to be sentimental about that tradition I once feared. That tradition became a part of me which I’ll never let go. It’s a tradition that looks to the individual, that cares for the individual with all its might, and the result is a community that finds strength in its pride. Despite the unexpected and sad ending to my class’ time at Notre Dame, I’m sure our contribution to this tradition will be lasting and profound. And to that tradition, all I have left to say, is thank you. 

Connor Mulvena is graduating with a degree from the department of English and a supplementary theology major. He plans to attend law school after a year of work as a paralegal in New York. If you share his disdain for Kirk Herbstreit’s commentary or miss his awe-inspiring takes on The Basement Breakdown, you can reach him 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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