By the grace of God
Hayden Adams | Friday, May 21, 2021
“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
This has gone through far too many iterations in my head, but it’s very difficult to decide what to write about in my final piece for The Observer. It feels like it should hold some philosophy for the reader and display some overall grandeur that accurately encapsulates my undergraduate years. That seems like a big ask given my unoriginal Notre Dame origin story:
Straight, white, upper middle-class, Catholic dude from a small private high school finds himself, for the first time in his life, away from home for an extended period. However, he finds a new community waiting to welcome him into the Notre Dame family. Spoiler alert: that new community was Zahm House.
I had originally intended to write this piece about Zahm, even before the university’s decision to dissolve the community. I had a (somewhat narcissistic) vision of my final farewell being one of the most read stories on the Observer website every year when dorm assignments would come out and eager freshmen-to-be would look up any information they could find on their new homes.
Not to get waist deep in the big muddy of the Zahm controversy, but when I look back at my years in South Bend, Zahm has been the common thread, and that seemed to be what the university was going for with their dorm policy. I mean, the first question you’re supposed to ask your fellow alumni when you meet them is what dorm they lived in.
Part of me understands why the university made the decision, but it’s really just addressing the symptoms of a larger issue. And it hurts me personally — despite having been able to experience it all four years of undergrad — because of what it does to the underclassmen I call my brothers. I’m not ashamed to say that, regardless of the way Zahm has been painted in the court of public opinion. As trite as it may seem, we proudly subscribe to the mantra: “Notre Dame by choice; Zahm by the grace of God.”
It’s a testament to the Zahm community that despite the dorm being removed from Notre Dame Day’s list of causes, we made the Robinson Community Learning Center our de facto cause and raised over $32,000. (There’s a “Star Wars” joke in there somewhere about striking us down and becoming more powerful than the university could possibly imagine).
The Zahm decision was pretty much the nail in the coffin for me when it comes to my relationship with Notre Dame. It’s a broken kind of love, to use the words of former editor-in-chief Kelli Smith in her own farewell message. Of course, Kelli meant it in a different way.
I would never deign to compare what I’ve experienced to those members of the class of 2020 who saw their last two months at Notre Dame and their graduation snatched away from them. At least I was able to come back to campus to see my friends once more — and even forge some new bonds. At least I had the chance to make the most of a year at Notre Dame unlike any other. That’s something for which I’m eternally grateful, but I’m also ready to move on.
My time at Notre Dame has been wonderful — if not occasionally extremely stressful. That seems pretty par for the course at a top-20 institution and by all accounts Notre Dame strikes an ideal balance between working hard and playing hard. It’s also a place with a lot of flaws, most of which aren’t unique but are nonetheless problematic.
A lack of diversity and scholarships, archaic policies and rather incompetent leadership have dimmed the glint of the sun off that golden dome.
More than anything, these last nine-and-a-half months have eroded what one of my JED professors dubbed “Notre Dame exceptionalism.” Sure, I’ll be proud to say I graduated from Notre Dame, but I’m not going to peddle the tired trope that college was the best four years of my life. (I pray that Aug. 2017–May 2021 isn’t as good as it gets for me considering I’ve been single the entire time).
But while I no longer hold the same rose-colored impression of Notre Dame I once did, I’m going to miss the individuals and groups that made the experience so enjoyable. To parody Odin’s words from “Thor: Ragnarok:” Notre Dame isn’t a place, it’s a people. It’s the men of Zahm, the aspiring journalists of The Observer, the brilliant members of the physics department, the hilarious cast and crew of the Not-So-Royal Shakespeare Company and those weirdos in the Gold Gang. Those are the people who have gotten me through the last four years.
I’ve said “Thank you” in a hundred different ways by this point, but I’m compelled to do it again. So many people have been pillars for me to lean on the last four years, and I can’t help but feel I didn’t deserve their support. But that’s the beautiful thing about Notre Dame, I suppose.
You may choose it for the prestige, the tradition, family legacy or otherwise. Everything else you get through the grace of God.
Hayden Adams is graduating with degrees in physics and film, television and theatre with a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy. He will be attending law school in the fall, most likely in Washington D.C. where he will finally have some professional sports teams to wholeheartedly identify with. He can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.