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viewpoint

The dining hall is a sacred place

| Friday, May 13, 2022

“I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.” — Andy Bernard

I spent four years at this University. Only in the last couple weeks have I come to appreciate something that is so often overlooked — the dining hall.  So, what were the good old days? It was walking into North Dining Hall freshman year at 6 p.m. knowing you’d find the three full high-top tables, “the Steds tables.” It was packing guys from every grade shoulder to shoulder, with your trays vertical trying to accommodate as many people as possible. It was going to Christmas dinner with your close friends and waiting upwards of an hour in line for food, knowing very well you hadn’t started a paper due the next day. It was going to the dining hall after a late-night Ackermann exam while running on no sleep, knowing there’d be at least one Steds guy there for you.

I may have been privileged being placed in such a tight-knit dorm, but I don’t doubt others have had a similar experience. This was the Notre Dame experience — just some college dudes promoting civil discourse over a plate of chicken tikka masala. No one was afraid to share their opinion and no topic was off-limits. It was the modern-day 17th-century coffee house of England. Or, guys would crack jokes and share their weekend stories, reminiscent of a stage at The Second City.

During sophomore year, I shared an awkward meal with a freshman during Welcome Weekend. Just gotta do what you gotta do. I never thought anything of it. Two years later, now being friends, he told me how he vividly remembers that meal and how our conversation over our shared experiences of going to Jesuit high schools made him feel comfortable in what was a very overwhelming weekend for him.

Last year was strange. Empty chairs at empty tables. We got glimpses of normalcy as Steds invested in some picnic tables, but after that first month of warm weather, things took a turn. Eating out of those black plastic boxes on a futon back in my room felt very dystopian. Sure, I was living with two guys, but where were my other hundred roommates? One guy expressed to me how he missed those moments we shared at North Dining Hall and how the community did not feel the same. Well, there was so much you could do when big brother (more like big sister) was watching…

Come senior year, my roommates discussed what they were going to do for lunch since we lived off-campus. Some decided to pack lunches or just make food at home. I decided to get a partial meal plan, a decision which I will always treasure. We were back to normalcy — the return of those high-top tables. Rather than Tuesdays with Morrie, I had Mondays and Wednesdays with Mike. The difference between me and my roommates was noticeable at various dorm events across the year. The majority of my friends still have no idea who the freshmen are. This past week, one of my junior friends told me he appreciated my unexpected presence at the dining hall this year, which convinced him to do the same next year.

Those tables are truly a sacred place. Sure, I have some gastro problems now, but I’ve formed countless relationships across all grades that I would never have otherwise formed. I walked in the other day, and for the first time since I can remember, there was no one at those tables. It hurt. I would do anything to walk into a crowded dining hall and fight over a chair with my roommates one last time. I urge everyone to appreciate those meals while they still can. Don’t pack a lunch. Get off your phones. Talk to someone new. Embrace the moment.

Peter Nichols

senior

April 30

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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