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Directions to the dome

| Friday, April 16, 2021

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

I remember my first day of class at the University of Notre Dame vividly. I stood swaying in the blustery wasteland at the intersection of Debart and Fitzpatrick, clutching a note card in my hand with information on my classes and their starting times scribbled frenziedly. I was five minutes late, and despite numerous Google searches, “O’Shag” was an Atlantis that I could not find as hard as I tried. I remember a senior spotting me at that moment, asking me where my class was and walking me up to the classroom I was meant to be in. I remember feeling the difference in time between us at that moment. Here I was, just starting my journey and lost on the first day while this senior knew every direction on this campus by heart. It took Odysseus 20 years to get home. He would have been back on the same day if he had been so lucky as to have that senior guide him the way I did that day.

This column isn’t a soliloquy on cartography, but a recognition of the seas of time I have crossed. I had this realization when a family asked me the direction to South Dining Hall the other day. I am now the senior that led the freshman to O’Shag. And although there are still places on campus (here’s looking at you, Grace Hall) that I swear exist in some forgotten fold of spacetime, the moment was not wasted on me.

I have one more column left to write as an undergraduate after this one, and I confess that this column is a bit all over the place, because I am all over the place right now. I wish I could impart some sort of ancient wisdom from a graduating senior, but all I can offer are a bit of directions to help you find the place you’re looking for (Important disclaimer: I discover every semester that it is not true that one side of the building belongs to Hayes and the other to Healey, but rather that they share it with a mysterious “Hurley” … if you have siblings, you will understand).

I remember writing a letter to Notre Dame as the final column of my freshman year, and one of the points I touched on was the changing perspective I had of the golden dome, from a challenge that beckoned me to a symbol of home. The golden dome represents something far more nuanced to me now. It is a symbol of the time I felt I had to hide the fact that I have known hunger and homelessness. I experienced a deep disconnect at times during my freshman year, and I remember that the dining hall food was a feast to someone who has known what it is like to go for days where the entire meal was a can of beans. It is a symbol of the memories I have made here, from meeting some of my best friends on the steps beneath the shadow of the dome to grabbing food from LaFun before we knew that we wouldn’t be coming back because of COVID. Nowadays, I find myself looking at the golden dome for just a split second longer when I walk past it, because I know one day I won’t see its radiant gleam when the bus turns on Notre Dame Avenue.

I don’t want to be so bold as to claim I have found myself, but Notre Dame has changed me in so many ways that I would not recognize that freshman who dreamed about getting lost in the minotaur’s labyrinth of DeBart classroom numbers. I have recently started to wear my class ring, and the duality that this experience brings is strange to me. On the one hand is pride, pride in the milestones we have crossed in getting through college during times of pandemic and racial upheaval, when it felt draining to even step outside and keep going at times. But I also feel as if my class ring is the One Ring of Tolkien fame, that I can turn invisible when I slip it onto my finger and go about campus as if nothing has changed from my freshman year.

But everything has changed. Instead of the dreaded Notre Dame introduction, seniors have a similar outroduction that involves the job search and/or plans to pursue higher education. The fact is, I am excited for the next stage of my life, but there are times when I wish I could slip on my class ring, turn invisible and carry on with the people and memories that I have made across these past infinite four years. It’s funny. When you know something is ending, you suddenly become motivated as if it were the beginning.

This isn’t goodbye just yet. So for now I will put my arm on your shoulder and show you the way to O’Shag one last time.

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.

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