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The story of us (Notre Dame and me)

| Tuesday, August 31, 2021

I have moved five times during my four years at Notre Dame, and every time I am shocked by the sheer amount of stuff I have. Sure, I wouldn’t ever say I’m a minimalist, but somehow I always find myself packing my car to the absolute brim with posters, storage bins, clothes, command strips and extension cords. Some stuff has made the cut year after year for reasons unbeknownst to me (without fail, I always pack a three-hole punch that I used maybe once freshman year) and some stuff I cannot wait to display each year (ask me about my poster wall!). I don’t really pack systematically, either, so many of the items that make it in my Honda Civic each time I move are more a result of chance than deliberate planning.

There is one item, however, that I have brought with me every semester of college despite its questionable utility. There’s a great story behind it, too — one which I have found myself telling over and over again since I arrived in South Bend for my senior year.

I have always been a big homebody, and I’m the oldest child, so moving into Ryan Hall three years ago was a bit of a harrowing experience for both me and my parents. During Welcome Weekend, I was of course, beyond excited to start my freshman year, but I was really dreading the moment my parents would leave me alone in my dorm room. When that moment finally came, and I walked my parents to their car, my dad said: “Wait, we forgot to get you an umbrella.” He proceeded to give me the umbrella that had been living on the floor of his car — a purple, rusting, struggling-to-maintain-structural-integrity umbrella. It was the last gift from my parents before they drove away, and I have used this umbrella and only this umbrella through every South Bend rainstorm I have weathered.

I’ve always loved thinking about this moment. It felt poetic, dramatic, heart-warming — everything you’d expect from a coming-of-age film or an episode of “Parenthood.” It felt like the first page of a real, distinctive chapter in my life, one in which I would discover my passion, explore the world and find myself.

Now I am here, three years later, sitting on my apartment patio, realizing the chapter that followed that incident has not made for a very good story. It started off strong, but things took a real hard left in the middle, and now, with the final pages terrifyingly within reach, I am having serious doubts about the author’s ability to wrap this all up in a satisfying way.

I have spent most of my college classes and internships figuring out what I am not passionate about, and I’m still struggling to figure out what that means for my post-graduation plans. I did not get to explore the world in the way I envisioned after my study abroad semester got cancelled twice, and I do not feel like I am close to settling the question of who I am — in fact, I feel further from that answer than I did when I was eighteen.

It’s hard to ignore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on diverting this story — nearly half of my semesters at Notre Dame (and counting) have been affected by the pandemic, and it seems to have screwed up the stories of pretty much everyone I know. At the same time, however, I’m questioning whether I would have reached a satisfactory ending even without a world-shattering global event. 

So what do we do when our stories don’t lend themselves to satisfactory conclusions? Do we give up on the whole enterprise, start over from the beginning? Or do we just approach the whole thing from a new perspective? My metaphor is being stretched a bit thin here, as I’m sure my parents wouldn’t appreciate me choosing either of the former options in regards to college. So the only option that we really have is to reevaluate. 

I am very proud of a lot of the work I’ve done in college, but at times I’ve still felt like I’m failing at the act of being in college. I’m not as social as some of my friends, I still miss home and my parents immensely and I certainly do not feel like I’ve made any grand discoveries about myself or my place in this world. But this past week I’ve been thinking a lot about my freshman year, and I’ve started to reevaluate.

If this chapter of my life has not made for a very good novel, perhaps it has made for an entertaining collection of short stories. Perhaps my time at college is not the story itself, but the setting for a wide array of smaller stories. When I was walking around campus on the first day of class, memories of all these little moments kept popping into my head. I remember staying at the Hesburgh Library long after my friends and I finished our work because we were waiting for a delivery of Insomnia Cookies. I remember how it felt walking out of my last final of my freshman fall, filled with a newfound sense of knowledge and confidence. I remember walking past the Morris Inn late at night in the dead of winter, trying to get a brief wave of the warm air. 

I still have this whole year, so I’m not trying to write a premature eulogy for my college experience. I’m beyond excited for my senior year, and hope I continue to grow as a person, experience new things and make memories that I’ll still be reminiscing about in thirty years. It’s given me a lot of comfort, though, to know that there’s no required endpoint, and instead I am allowed to enjoy moments as they come. If you’re also feeling overwhelmed by the expectation of a satisfying ending, I encourage you to take a step back with me and appreciate the short stories, instead.

Ellie Konfrst is a senior studying political science with a minor in the Hesburgh Program for Public Service. Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, she’s excited people will once again be forced to listen to her extremely good takes. You can find her off campus trying to decide whether or not she’ll go to law school or bragging that Taylor Swift follows her on Tumblr. She can be reached at [email protected] or @elliekonfrst13 on Twitter.

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

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