Would you choose it again?
Dane Sherman | Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Nervous herds of students whisked by us. My friend and I sat in gorgeous leather seats staring at the illustrious carpeting, ceilings and huge windows of the ballroom. Both of us leaned on a small cocktail table with a basic white sign flashing the words “LGBTQ/PrismND.”
Some of the admitted students pretended not to see the sign at all. Some students giddily making new friends truly didn’t. Others stared at our table with a desire to come up, but were not comfortable enough to out themselves in front of all the other admitted students.
From the few brave souls that decided to venture to our table, one question emerged over and over again. It was an especially stark question when an admitted queer student of color described a fear to attend Notre Dame and hesitantly asked, “Would you choose it again?”
I remember college decision season — the beginning of COVID — when we hoped to be back to school in a few weeks after we “flattened the curve,” and before reality dashed those hopes.
The suspense. The build-up. Nervously clicking into the portal at just the right time. Everyone’s breath held. C-L-I-C-K. My finger timidly hit the view decision button.
Before the computerized confetti even began to fall, my entire quarantined family around me began to erupt in screams of excitement. I had gotten into my dream school: Stanford.
Going to any university, but especially a “prestigious” private institution is an incredible privilege, one ascribed to very few. As of 2021, only 37.9% of adults over the age of 25 hold a bachelor’s degree, with the percentage attending private universities like Notre Dame or Stanford far, far lower. That’s a fact I see reflected in my own family; my older siblings and my mom don’t have college degrees at all.
However, for those in the position to choose, making a college decision can feel life-defining. In many ways, it is. No matter what options we hold, these decisions can put a lot of weight on the shoulders of an 18-year-old who barely has figured out what they want in life.
It is closing the door on one version of your life that you will never get to live. Whether it’s a different school, a job, community college or some other life path, going to college is letting go of another opportunity, another version of yourself. Many versions of ourselves exist out in the cosmos in lives we will never get to live.
I applied to 10 schools and got into seven of them. Of the seven, Notre Dame was not on my list of contenders. I forgot to check the decision until a couple of days later, showing my dad on the phone with a disinterested “Oh, I got in.” The screams, computer, confetti and excitement were not there for Notre Dame.
When I got into Stanford, it spread like wildfire. I got a random email from my high school principal where he wrote, “Dude, STANFORD!!!!!!! So awesome, well-earned and richly deserved. So proud of you, and so appreciative of all that you do.” Texts flooded from family and friends who described pride and the no-brainer decision.
Originally, what moved Notre Dame up on my list from last place was they offered me a lot more money than anywhere else. Forcing me to give the conservative, Catholic, midwestern school a chance.
I made elaborate spreadsheets giving point values to different aspects of the college experience that I wanted. I played ball with my dog for hours, listening to music, hoping genius would strike like lightning. I stress-baked cookies hoping the chocolate chips would provide comfort. My monthly playlist for April 2020 was “got note from stanny admissions counselor, I think I’m going there.” The playlist is accompanied by an overly dramatic picture of two school logos and “THE CHOICE” emblazoned above.
With COVID in the air, schools tried to pull out all the stops for recruiting. A couple of schools sent me their gear. Others sent me stickers and a couple sent personalized letters about my application. Stanford sent me a virtual reality headset to “visit” their campus with. Notre Dame sent me people to talk with — current students, graduates and a whole community of people who told me about their life here. In my conversations with Stanford graduates, they described concern for the common good, the beautiful fountains on campus, taking quick trips to San Francisco and incredible speakers who come regularly.
Since deciding on Notre Dame, I’ve seen the best we have to offer.
Professors who I consider not only dear mentors, but friends — sharing books, ideas and exciting intellectual conversations over coffee, food and office hours. Friendships which have challenged my beliefs and given me the tools to build a more just world. A class with 7 of 9 students being ordained African priests or classes on development with graduate students who have spent 20 years in the field. A political climate that isn’t homogenous, where every idea I share must be backed up and rigorously debated. Staying up till two in the morning eating Insomnia cookies and discussing abortion, where my belief is in the minority. Most of all, a student body that cares — one who spends their mornings in service to those experiencing homelessness, spends their days studying the economics of poverty, and their evenings working with local unions to create more just economic relations.
I’ve also seen the worst of Notre Dame.
Blatant racism and classism by classmates to each other. A professor told me that my family and other LGBTQ+ families weren’t real families, handing me a Bible to profess my family’s sins. Being relentlessly cyberbullied, receiving death threats and being mocked for who I was when running for student body vice president last year. Being asked while going around the dining halls collecting signatures for a non-discrimination petition, “Well-done, medium-rare or rare? How thoroughly do you wish to be cooked in hell?”
Eventually, through the dozens of phone calls with students, alumni and faculty, I realized the tension inherent to Notre Dame — a tension that excited me. A challenging intellectual environment that would make me grow and learn the power of friendship with people who I severely disagree with. A place where too many still feel on the outside looking in and too many still exert their privilege to maintain their exalted status, where too many feel empowered to bully others they deem less.
As Fr. Heburgh used to say, Notre Dame exists as a lighthouse and a crossroads. A lighthouse that stands apart, shining with the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, while the crossroads is where “differences of culture and religion and conviction can co-exist with friendship, civility, hospitality and especially love.”
Living in the mix of a lighthouse and a crossroads to me is the best opportunity to be a global citizen, to help build the beloved community and to live a life in pursuit of justice. That may not be the right path for everyone and it is not always the four years you were promised in being invited into the “family.”
The saints of this column are the people who have recently been through the taxing college process that doesn’t work its magic for everyone. Not everyone got into their dream school; not everyone can pay to go to their top-choice institution even if they got in, and those who choose not to attend four-year universities can feel entirely excluded.
This column is especially for the saints who must choose one version of themselves instead of another. I’ve resigned to the fact that these will not be the best four years of my life. I know I would have been happier at Stanford, but Notre Dame was the right choice for me. Notre Dame has caused tremendous pain but also made me grow stronger, like a sword forged in the fire. I would choose it again — the good, bad and absolutely ugly.
Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, peace studies, philosophy and gender studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYTs op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS wants to chat and can be reached at @danesherm on twitter or [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.