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We’re back

| Thursday, September 23, 2021

As I have noted in prior columns, my Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI) experience is a time of reflection, discernment and design. I am beyond grateful for this experience. It is also a time of returning and renewal. This is the longest time I have spent on campus since my undergraduate years which ended on May 18, 1980 — a million years ago, for those who are counting. We spend a great deal of time contemplating our leave-taking, yet this year, both for me and all of those on campus, it is also a time when we can declare “We’re back!” As did Dan Stowe, director of the Notre Dame Glee Club as he began the triennial alumni concert.

“There’s a Meeting Here Tonight” is the African American spiritual that opened the evening. As the inspiring male voices greeted us, the well-seasoned words were especially resonant:

Come along

There’s a meeting here tonight

I know you by your daily walk

There’s a meeting here tonight

“Come along” with us on this journey. “There’s a meeting here tonight.” We return to Notre Dame — Our Lady’s University — with wonder and anticipation; with exuberance and a bit of caution. The year ahead will be so familiar, yet new again. Our daily walk of learning, growing and being in community together inspires and challenges. Gone are dear friends and travails and welcomed are the new and promising. And, this early in the semester, we are full of hope.

The alumni concert draws friends old and new. Some 225 voices rose in song. Dan Stowe reminded the audience that the Glee Club suspended their season with their last performance on March 12, 2020. It had been 18 months since they had sung together, so graduates of the classes of 2020 and 2021 joined current students and alumni in an evening of joy and welcome homecoming. We were back. How have we changed? What have we learned? And what have we lost? For these men, they dedicated “Venite Ad Me Omnes” to the memory of Stevie Biddle ’12. I am ages older, yet feel refreshed and inspired to be back, in the classroom and with ILI fellows and students. This seems to be the perfect year to return.

We were graced with the voices of Notre Dame men, both young and older. Dan Stowe acknowledged the current students interspersed among the crowd whom were graduates of the classes of 2020 and 2021 whose leave-taking was imperfect. Rounding out the group were alums from 1959 and forward. Each was “back on campus” fresh with song and joy. How have their lives changed? What is good about the new post-COVID world? When will we hold our last Zoom call? Give a friend a hug without asking permission? Enter a building without groping for a mask? Burn the last of our cloth masks? What was good about our COVID times? The birthday celebration that included a friend from Ireland, because, Zoom? The online anti-racism seminar, because Zoom? Actually asking if my cousin’s celebration would be streamed live?

I pause to remind myself and you, dear readers, that I set about to contemplate homecoming and returning, renewal and rebirth. I note, with joy, the sight of the father and his tow-haired son who just left Duncan. I celebrate my acceptance to ILI as my quarantine accomplishment. I appreciate mastering the readings in my sociology class or the philosophy masters in my ILI fellows class.

Since last Friday night, the refrain from the most poignant of the Glee Club’s songs, “Loch Lomond,” has echoed through my brain.

You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland afore you.

Where me and my true love will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Though our Scotsman may not meet his lass, we do walk together. We have either the low road or the high road, and our year, our lives are ahead. I have chosen to return; you may be anticipating leaving, but let us commit to Our Lady and her University that we will relish and cherish each day ahead until our roads take us from her and her watchful grace.

Love thee.

Mary Ellen Woods is a graduate of the Notre Dame class of 1980. She has returned to campus as a fellow in the Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI). As an undergraduate, she lived in Breen-Phillips Hall and now lives off campus. Her columns appear every other Thursday. A longtime resident of Chicago, she can be reached at [email protected] or @MEWsmuses on Twitter.

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

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