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Emotions, duty and the virus

| Thursday, August 27, 2020

I write this to the good students among you — the tender, strong and true. As an alumnus, my heart aches for you and what you are going through. From afar I can imagine that there is such a swirl of emotions in play: anxiousness, anger, frustration that the administration isn’t making the right decisions and an overall unease. It is hard — a heavy load. Hang in there.

Here is something I hope will help. I want to challenge you to look at the other side of the coin. Let me explain. When Senator John McCain came to campus in 2003, he spoke of his great mission in life to convince us of our duty to serve a cause greater than our own self-interest, just as he had done as a Vietnam POW and throughout his life. He also praised the commitment to volunteerism at our school. Service to others — that is so Notre Dame.

In my day, the mid-70s, many of us helped many good causes. Perhaps the greatest among us was Al Sondej. He stood outside the dining hall with a smile on his face asking us to put some spare change into his big milk jug so he could use the money to feed the hungry. He did this day after day, year after year, until he eventually collected over $25,000. He died at the young age of 37 after rushing into a burning building as a volunteer fireman — caring for others until the end. I am so proud that this Irish tradition continues today. Notre Dame is ranked No. 1 among universities in non-profit and community service.

You are doing that now. You sacrifice your freedom of movement, yes, for your own safety, but in a deeper and more meaningful way: for a cause greater than your own, for the protection of your fellow students, faculty and administration, your family, your country. Your efforts are ultimately saving lives.

There is satisfaction in sacrificing for others. Tap into that. There is, in a profound sense, actually a joy in that, intermingled with the sorrow. Let that be the thought that fills you, not the burden. You can do this.

You can’t do it alone, though. Lean on the Lord. Pray. Go deep. Unite your suffering to His. Endure, drawing on the strength He exhibited to endure. As Catholic author and speaker Chris Stefanick has said, “Jesus didn’t suffer on the cross so that we don’t have to. He did it so that we know how to.”

This mess was caused by a minority of students, the selfish. Oh, they have their own “cause” and are very passionate about it. Theirs is the “right” to party. So, there is one more thing that that I ask you to do, and it is also difficult.

Confront them. Change won’t happen through the “HERE” campaign alone. It takes you being active one-on-one. Call out the selfish. You know who they are. Don’t do so in an angry venting, though. The goal is to persuade. That will take some tact.

You can change the culture because you know how to do this very well. We are all so much more aware of racial discrimination and sexual harassment now because of action taken by young adults. Change happened by taking to the streets and by calling out people in the workplace and elsewhere, by getting personally involved.

Just remember how we became known as the Fighting Irish back in 1927. It was after 500 students took on the Ku Klux Klan three years earlier. No punches need to be thrown this time. But the selfish should be taken on in all the interactions you have with them.

It is easy to be silent and hard to be vocal. Draw on your Catholic faith to muster the moral courage to do this. Be inspired by our Lord who suffered and died — for us! That was an immense sacrifice. Be inspired by the many saints who were tortured and martyred for a cause greater than their own: for our Lord.

Duty, honor, country. Continue the tradition.

And my heart forever, love thee Notre Dame.

Brian Lopina

class of ’77

Aug. 21

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