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viewpoint

Embracing the unexpected

| Friday, May 21, 2021

During the first week of my freshman year, amid what felt like endless Welcome Weekend events and “Notre Dame introductions,” I called my mom sobbing. I hated college, I told her. Everything felt strange and lonely, and I wanted nothing more than to go home, already mentally filling out my transfer application. After making me promise that I’d stick it out at least longer than a week, my mom told me that in four years, she expected that I’d be crying because I didn’t want to leave college. At the time, I brushed off her suggestion, but that conversation has always stuck with me.

Based on the amount of tears I’ve already shed about graduation, it looks like my mom was right after all. But looking back to that phone conversation, I don’t think either of us could have known what these next four years would look like. Clearly, I didn’t foresee the pandemic would alter both the world and my senior year, but beyond the obvious, I would be remiss to say that my experience has been without unexpected hurdles. Just like life, college contains a complicated collage of emotions and experiences. However, in the moments that have made up these past few years, there are so many people and communities who have made South Bend my home over these last four years, and having to say goodbye to them is the reason I’ll be so sad to leave. 

My college career was rooted in uncertainty from the start — doing my freshman year through the Holy Cross-Notre Dame Gateway Program necessitated this. Caught in this unique place in the tri-campus, Gateway asked my flexibility, open-mindedness and a certain acceptance that questions about which dorm I lived in would require more than a two-word answer. While this new experience was outside of my comfort zone, this unconventional freshman year proved to be better than I could have ever imagined. Holy Cross will always be the place where I met some of my best friends and became part of a community that has lasted through four years of college. To my friends and fellow Gateways, thank you for helping me embrace all the tri-campus has to offer, and for our community that extends far beyond the confines of Holy Cross and Notre Dame. 

Transferring into Notre Dame full time as a sophomore, I didn’t know what to expect from dorm life at this university. I felt like there was a possibility I had missed my chance to be a part of a hall community by not living there my freshman year, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Thank you to all the people who welcomed me into the Farley Hall community, especially section 3A and the finest seniors for helping me make the best of what was undoubtedly a challenging year to live on campus. I’m so grateful for the laughs, love and support that have filled these beige-tiled halls. 

And, of course, there’s The Observer. When I started writing for the Notre Dame news department as a freshman, I could never have imagined that I would be writing this goodbye column as an outgoing member of Top Five. When I got the Assistant Managing Editor position over a year ago, I also never expected that our paper would garner national attention for holding our administrations accountable, nor that most of our editorial board meetings would be over Zoom and that I would spend a lot of the year guessing what people’s faces looked like under their masks. 

This year has been one of the most turbulent in Observer history, and leading the paper in this time presented a gaggle of challenges none of us signed up for. Luckily, I was given the best company with which to weather the storm: Thank you to the outgoing editorial board and especially the little women — Maria, Mariah, Maeve and Sara — for your endless friendship and support. Who else but the March family would parse through racks and racks of clothes at Goodwill looking for my missing purse (which happened to be behind the register all along) while I had a full-on emotional breakdown? Working at The Observer has been so much more than a job for me, and it’s impossible to imagine where I would be right now without the hours spent in the basement of South Dining Hall.

Right now, my future is more nebulous than it’s ever looked. I have the next few months planned out, to an extent — and after that, it’s truly anyone’s guess. In a different era of my life, I think this concrete lack of clarity might have sent me into a tailspin. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t panicked about this wide-open space that charts the rest of my life.

But if there’s anything the last four years have taught me, it’s that if things had gone just as I’d wanted or anticipated, I would have missed out on some of the most meaningful relationships, experiences and moments of my life — chatting into the early morning hours at section socials, wandering the streets of Rome during fall break junior year, deliriously dancing to “Whistle” at 4 a.m. while laying out The Observer’s election edition, sprinting onto the field with my friends after Notre Dame beat Clemson. At Notre Dame, I found community and a sense of belonging, and that’s what I’ll take with me after I leave this place, more even than my anxiety about what the future might bring.

As I near the end of my last-ever byline for The Observer, I’m tempted to draw out the conclusion with another sentence, another story, another “thank you.” While there are scores of people I want to thank by name, there will never be enough words for me to feel truly done. I’ve been struggling to find the perfect way to pay tribute to all the moments, the communities, the places and the people that have made these last four years beyond what I ever could have expected. But right now, I have to accept that I’ve said all I can, hoping that I can fill in the gaps with the love I have for my friends and the people that have shaped me during my time here.

So, with that, thank you to anyone and everyone who has made my college experience one to remember. The unexpected joys of these past four years have been the greatest ones of all.

Claire Rafford is graduating from Notre Dame with a degree in English and minors in journalism, ethics and democracy and business economics. She will be spending this summer reporting for the Indianapolis Star as a Pulliam Fellow. You can send comments, coffee shop recommendations and critical analyses of the “Twilight baseball scene to [email protected] 

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

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About Claire Rafford

Claire is a senior from Tempe, Arizona majoring in English and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy and Business-Economics. She peaked when her team won the Battle of the Books state championship in 2011.

Contact Claire