Mary Ellen Woods | Thursday, March 31, 2022
Where ever you are, on any day, in any year, when you hear these words, may they call to mind the love we feel for one another. May we know and be confident that Our Lady and her University have given us a most powerful gift – the gift of love, A love that empowers and a love that endures. A love that challenges, and a love that heals. Many of us have a sense that Notre Dame is a special place. Some of us know that it is, and that it is because of Our Lady’s love and our love for one another. When first we arrive on campus, Mary greets us from aloft the Dome. She welcomes us to our new home. As students, we are challenged to learn and to study — to stretch our minds and to master new material. At Notre Dame, our learning is not an end to itself. We are tasked to be a “force for good,” to make our world a better place. In this sense, we are called to go beyond ourselves and to a love of others. Service is at the heart of our work. But service alone is not enough. We are expected to be leaders, to advance our chosen fields and to improve the work and lives of others.
~ Tender, strong and true ~
Venturing a bit further into other manifestations of love, I recall my first introduction to the then defensive coordinator, Marcus Freeman. I was at a fundraiser hosted by the ND Club of Chicago, my home. Coach Freeman was the guest of honor. He was new in his job. I was struck then, all the more, when he charged his position coaches to love their players. They needed to know their guys and to care for them. This was language that I did not expect to hear from a football coach — the leader of a most macho endeavor. And yet, in those words, I knew that I was hearing a very fine person, and I even knew that he would soon be a head coach. (I just didn’t know HOW soon.) In Coach Freeman’s remarks, I heard an unexpected call to love others and to imagine the power of that love. He described the role of his coaches as a responsibility to the betterment of their players. Their jobs were to work with their players and to develop them into the best people and players that they could be. So too are the faculty and staff of Notre Dame asked to help students become their best selves and to advance their studies to the fullest.
As young first-year students, we have just left home, likely for the first extended time. Our studies and scholarship are now fully our own. In this sense, we begin university as new adults. Notre Dame provides a place for academic and personal growth — a place where we develop into critical, educated adults. Our learning is grounded in hard work and fueled by a love that expects the best of us. We will develop into people informed by scholarship and forged in a community that demands serious inquiry. Notre Dame is different from other universities in our commitment to scholarship and in the duty to use our studies to show truth to power.
Notre Dame students bear a special responsibility to love, but first you must take care of yourselves. Without a strength of character and mental and physical self love, you cannot do your best. But you must go beyond that to care for one another, your faculty and advisors and even the staff who tend to you so well. You are different, dare I say truly wonderful. You bring yourselves to this place and make both it and yourselves better for your presence and hard work. You also bring joy. It is that joy that enlivens all you do — in the classroom, in your dorms and on the playing fields. Keep that joy. It will sustain you and be one of many reasons you return to this special place. And, along the way, say a kind word to those who care for you. They will appreciate it.
~ And our hearts forever, … ~
I believe that love calls us to hope for and expect the best of one another. We want our beloveds to be their best. We have only the highest expectations of Notre Dame. I have been taken to task for seeing Notre Dame in her best light. This has been a choice for me in my writing, but it is also a reflection of my expectations of my alma mater. In fact, my argument is that we should always hold Notre Dame to the highest standard. We must not only be critical, but we have an obligation to set a very high standard of performance for our University and all who love her. We command everyone associated with Notre Dame to be her or his best. So, when you entwine your arms and sing our alma mater, be it today, this May or sometime in the distant future, we say “Love thee, Notre Dame.”
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 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.