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The most glaring threat to Notre Dame

| Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Imagine God Quad during an ideal spring afternoon on campus. The sun beams boldly onto the University of Notre Dame and her iconic Golden Dome glows resplendently. But what if we’ve been blinded by its glare? What if, for all the resources and prestige brought to the University by another successful ND Day and a record-low acceptance rate this year, we’re trading something far more valuable? What if we’ve become so fixated on selling the mythos of Notre Dame to the world that we’ve turned our beloved University into a commodity?

Don’t get me wrong at all. New dorm halls don’t pay for themselves. I understand that to a degree, Notre Dame needs to advertise itself and present all of the beautiful things it has to offer in order to get people to buy in, monetarily and otherwise. After all, that’s largely how Fr. Hesburgh and Fr. Malloy made Notre Dame what it is today. But in my opinion, we’re becoming superficial.

We boast our international diversity, maybe to compensate for the fact that our racial/ethnic diversity could be much better. We continually boast a tight-knit campus community but are less diligent about reckoning with the fact that many social circles are (often subconsciously) segregated by race and socioeconomic status. Our school’s lawns are manicured and pristine; flowers that don’t bloom quite healthily enough are replaced by ones that will. Similarly, any sentiments that Notre Dame isn’t perfect and could improve in important areas are quickly uprooted by those who have fully bought into the idea that Notre Dame is some kind of Catholic Disney World, a place of never-ending joy, beauty and community. The consequence of this obsessive quest to project a favorable image of Notre Dame is that we’re implicitly telling ourselves that what’s on the outside matters more than what’s on the inside. Who we are is less important than who the world thinks we are.

And at this University which idealizes virtues like modesty and charity, there’s something ironic about how vain and flippantly indulgent we can all be. Think about the fact that the dining halls had to remove their trash cans because so much food was going to waste. Think about how luxury items like Airpod Maxes and Canada Goose jackets are commonplace on our campus. We buy these items because they’re nice, but often also because they are unspoken messages to the world about our relative status. Think about the fact that when people ask you where you went for spring break, they’re often disappointed if your answer isn’t some lavish getaway to an exotic locale. Notre Dame’s student body is very much affected by our University’s superficiality problem, and vice versa.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy the finer things life has to offer, and I’m definitely not denying that I’m vain and superficial also. (I own AirPods and I splurged on my winter coat too.) I’m also not saying that these problems don’t exist at other top universities where most of the student body belongs to the upper middle class.

But Notre Dame isn’t supposed to be like those Universities, not at its core. Notre Dame is supposed to be level ground, a place that sees people and situations the way that God does, not for what’s on the surface or what’s externally visible, but for what truly matters on the inside. A place that cares more about tending to its flaws (and embracing an uneven patch of grass here or there) than presenting the image of a perfect school. Make no mistake about it, our school does have a lot to offer: resources rivaling and surpassing many of the most prestigious schools in America, world-renowned faculty with CVs the length of this morning’s newspaper and far more often than not, a springboard to a great career. But Notre Dame at its core is supposed to be more than that. It’s supposed to be a place that embodies the values and virtues of the figure at its roots.

The Virgin Mary did not live atop a golden dome or within a hallowed basilica. She gave birth to her son right next to the sheep and the pigs. Our Lady’s University and those who attend it are obsessive about manicuring their outward appearance. Our Lady never cared about hers.

Notre Dame is a beautiful place. If you search deeply and earnestly enough, you’ll find opportunities for communion and relationship with the people around you and a call to something greater than yourself. You’ll find the chance to begin the journey towards a higher self, a person who is more contemplative, more moral, and more open-minded. If you ever get lost on that journey, look to the Virgin Mary as your ideal, but be careful not to lose her in the glare of the golden dome.

Oluwatoni (Toni) is a freshman majoring in Business Analytics at the University of Notre Dame. He can be reached at [email protected].

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

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