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Reclaiming senior year

| Monday, August 24, 2020

Looking across the room at my M.C. Escher print entitled “Hand with Reflecting Sphere” has made me think. M.C. Escher was a Dutch graphic artist whose work in the early to mid-twentieth century is characterized by the interplay between reality and fantasy, often incorporating geometric figures that would be impossible within his works. The way Escher commanded and played with reality is beautiful, and he created universes where one could frolic for eternity, forgetting the fact that they are bounded by the rules of gravity and physics, bounded by the borders of the works themselves.

But “Hand with Reflecting Sphere” has made me ponder other things as well, and the composition of the work will elucidate where I am going with this. In this lithograph, which is a self-portrait of the author, a hand can be seen holding up a completely reflective globe that captures the artist sitting inside a small study. Of course, the catch is that none of this can be seen outside the “world” of the globe, the blankness of which is a strong contrast to the fullness and detail of the reality reflected in the sphere.

I am a senior this year, and, of course, this year looks nothing at all like the years that have come before it. It would be banal to write to you all of the things that we cannot (and should not) be doing, a list of the people, memories and moments that COVID-19 has stolen from us. Right now, all of these things are packed inside the Reflecting Sphere with us, making it difficult to see past the edges of the globe and enclosing us inside it (what if my dorm room is the room that Escher had in mind when we created this lithograph? I’ll let the philosophy majors handle that one).

On Friday, the class of 2021 received an email from our class president, Sam Cannova, and I cannot think of a better way to frame this year than he did. “This year won’t be the year we expected, but it is still our year,” and the way to most effectively and constructively accomplish this is to recalibrate and shift our expectations. And it is more than that as well. It is an opportunity to become a generation of battle-tested young leaders.

Too often, people point backwards to the past as a hallmark of times and bygone eras as the “golden age,” eras of great change and great opportunity where great leaders were born from the fire. I am guilty of this as much as anyone. Nowadays, however, it is tempting to write love letters to the ordinary, to football games, coming over to an off-campus friend’s house, to seeing the smile of a loved one without a mask. The important realization to be made is that we are living in a time, right now, of great opportunity.

We hear so often (I stopped myself from changing the spelling and adding TM to the top of one of those words) that the world is watching what Notre Dame is doing, but it is true. I have friends from other universities across the nation sending me articles detailing what they think about Notre Dame, our student body and our administration. I write this to all of you, but especially my fellow seniors, because we will soon be entering a world that has changed radically from that first turn onto campus, the dome straight ahead of us.

It is not that our current reality is more “exciting” than the ones before us. To insinuate that we are living in a “golden age” of anything would risk being blind to the profound pain and suffering that pierces through our world daily. And yet, our University itself was founded in the fire. To be part of the Fighting Irish is to have the tenacity to see the world outside the Reflecting Sphere.

I will be the first to admit that I sometimes feel like Martin Luther, locked in a cage of monasticism in my room. I feel locked inside a self-reinforcing and self-reflecting globe as if Escher really did have me in mind when he created “Hand with Reflecting Sphere.” And yet, the irony of any work by Escher is that it is an invitation to inhabit the worlds that he creates, breaking the sphere as we do, the illusion evaporating like ink in a glass of water to fill the space that we thought was blank. It isn’t really. And reality awaits just outside the borders of that little room.

Gabriel Niforatos is a senior majoring in political science with minors in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and Theology. He is passionate about giving a voice to the disenfranchised and writing is the muse he is persistently chasing. He can be found at [email protected] or @g_niforatos on Twitter.

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

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