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‘Know that you are never alone’: Community, family mourns loss of ND sophomore

James “Jake” Blaauboer passed away unexpectedly on Friday, Nov. 11. Blaauboer was a sophomore at Notre Dame, veteran of the U.S. Army and avid runner, but most importantly, he was a brother, a son and a friend.

Born in December 1995, Blaauboer grew up in upstate New York in a small town called Clifton Park. He lived with his loving parents, Mary and James “Jim” Blaauboer, and younger sister Molly Blaauboer. 

Molly Blaauboer, only 20 months younger than Blaauboer, said she was always the “proud younger sister,” following behind Jake throughout their schooling. 

“Molly is very outgoing and social, and Jake was very reserved and would keenly observe,” their mother, Mary Blaauboer, explained. 

Jake and Molly Blaauboer grew up together in Clifton Park, New York with their parents, Mary and Jim Blaauboer. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Right out of high school, Blaauboer enlisted in the U.S. Army, and then spent the next few years of his life in active and reserve duty, during most of which he was stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado. 

After his service, Blaauboer started community college and applied to a myriad of other universities and colleges — one of which was the University of Notre Dame. Although his parents said they had no personal connection to Notre Dame, the family grew up watching Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish win football games. 

Blaauboer first transferred into the University in the fall of 2019, where he was a sophomore English major in St. Edward’s Hall. 

His family explained that although Blaauboer loved to read and write, he didn’t know what he wanted to accomplish with an English degree— which was why he took a leave of absence from the University in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

When he left Notre Dame, Blaauboer went directly into technical school where he learned to be a welder. Working with his hands was something that Blaauboer began during his time as the Army when he was randomly selected to be a mechanic, Molly Blaauboer said.  

“We’re getting outreach now about how great he was at being a mechanic and what a great soldier he was, which we totally believe, but it’s interesting to see the ripple,” she noted. 

After he finished technical school, the family said Blaauboer moved to Maine to work as a welder, far away from his hometown in New York. 

While the family was in Maine celebrating Easter 2022, Molly Blaauboer mentioned that Blaauboer announced his intention to return to Notre Dame unexpectedly. 

“This is completely out of the blue,” she said. “[He said,] ‘I have something to tell you guys … I’ve applied to be unparoled from Notre Dame.’”

Jake Blaauboer was only 20 months older than Molly, who said her teachers always liked to have another Blaauboer in their classrooms. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Molly Blaauboer noted that this wasn’t unlike Blaauboer and that he often changed his mind about what he wanted to accomplish with his life. 

“I would joke about how I wonder what he wants to do this week,” she laughed. 

Mary Blaauboer explained that Blaauboer wasn’t happy as a welder because he needed something more intellectually stimulating. The family said he loved to debate politics, philosophy and history with anyone who would listen. 

“He’s an intellectual person, you know, he was a deep thinker. He was a reader,” Mary said. 

Blaauboer had to go through an entire re-entry process, Molly said, and finally found out he was retuning in July. So, in August 2022, now 26 year old Blaauboer moved to Notre Dame for the second time but as a history major instead. 

Because adjusting to college life can be hard — especially the second time — Notre Dame’s care and wellness consultants in the Center for Student Support and Care put together a support group filled with re-admitted students, including Blaauboer and fellow sophomore Ua Tom.  

Tom, a theology major and native of the Bronx in New York City, said he was originally a Gateway student, but he took time off from the University because he didn’t want his first semester at Notre Dame to be controlled by the COVID-19 pandemic. While away, Tom returned to NYC and was a teacher in Chinatown. 

“All of us re-admits, we have our mental health issues, for sure, every single one of us. But that’s also what got us close,” Tom noted. 

The support group, colloquially named “we back” by the members, met every Wednesday at 4 p.m., according to Tom. 

“Self-deprecation was the highest form of humor that we have for ourselves in that group. We dropped out but we’re back,” he joked. 

Tom explained that Blaauboer stood out as a natural mentor and leader of the group.

“When Jake spoke, people listened, he was just so earnest and genuine. Jake always checked up on me and was a wonderful influence on myself and the rest of the readmitted students,” Tom said. “He happily and naturally took on the role of an older brother and mentor, and whenever I saw him it would totally make my day. It was clear from the moment that I met him that he had a big heart. His positivity and compassion was contagious.”

Tom said he would never forget one moment when Blaauboer helped Tom during a difficult period of time.

“I’ll never forget when I was really having a tough time [at the beginning of the semester] when I was in the thick of [transitioning] and really struggling to focus on class,” he explained. “Jake gave me a hug. He told me he was there for me, and I wasn’t alone.”

Although he had only known Blaauboer for a short time, Tom noted how much of an impact Blaauboer had on him, saying that he wished they had spent more time together. 

“He really was a light of a human being. He was such an easily likable guy who was really gentle and kind,” he said. “In some ways, he knew us better than we knew ourselves.”

Apart from classes and the support group, Blaauboer was also active in the Notre Dame Running Club. Race coordinator for the club and Stanford Hall junior Jonathan Karr said Blaauboer was an active member of the group and often volunteered to drive the team to and from meets. 

“He was very supportive of the entire team. He took pictures when we ran, he wanted us to succeed, and he cheered for all the runners,” Karr said. 

Karr emphasized how deeply grateful he was for Blaauboer’s positive influence on the team and for him personally. 

“I was a very close friend with Jake, and he really helped the team,” Karr noted. “He really, really embodied what it means to be a Fighting Irish.”

The family also emphasized how important running, particularly the routine of the sport, was to Blaauboer.

“He was strict with himself,” Mary Blaauboer said. “Routine and ritual were important to him in every aspect. So, there was a routine for food and exercise and friendships and then the school and work and everything. For him, overlapping those things was uncomfortable.”

They said he also loved comedy and was a huge fan of movies. Overall, the Blaauboers said the outpouring of love they have received from family, friends, teammates and anyone who knew Blaauboer has meant a lot to them. 

“That’s an amazing blessing and comfort — to know that he’s remembered and prayed for,” Mary Blaauboer said.

The family said Jake Blaauboer loved movies, comedy and running. He would also debate politics or philosophy with anyone who would listen. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Tom emphasized that anyone, who knew Blaauboer personally or not, can honor his memory by living fully and not being afraid to reach out to others.

“Live with the same spirit that he did,” Tom said. “Reach out and ask someone how they are doing, like he did for us.”

Fr. Pete McCormick, the inaugural assistant vice president for campus ministry, echoed Tom’s sentiment during Notre Dame’s mass of remembrance on Nov. 16.

“Sometimes words fail and can’t always communicate the depths of sorrow,” he said. “Be unafraid to reach out to a member of hall staff, the University Counseling Center (UCC) or campus ministry. Know that you are never alone.”

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

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Scene

Book Nook: The infamous and upcoming Percy Jackson adaptations

I recently watched the 2005 film “Pride and Prejudice,” based on Jane Austen’s 1813 novel of the same name. It was excellent. Many movie adaptations of books struggle to convey their lengthy events in a completely different medium, but this is not the case with “Pride and Prejudice.” The writing succeeds in staying true to the book and creating an enjoyable movie. Readers of the novel will appreciate the actors’ interpretations of their respective characters. However, you could watch the film without reading the book and immensely enjoy it.

This made me think back to my days of watching the Percy Jackson film adaptations, which were terrible. They were incredibly loose adaptations, and the antithesis of everything the “Pride and Prejudice” film did well.

The novel series Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan is about a 12-year-old half-human son of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, who goes on adventures with his demigod friends and saves the world multiple times. It consists of five books covering Percy’s life over a few years at a magical camp for demigods on Long Island.

I loved the book series. It was a staple of my middle school experience. I would stay up extremely late to read about how Percy and his friends defeated monsters. I would read the series at the dinner table with my family, which was admittedly rude. But I was so absorbed in the writing, I physically could not put them down until I was finished. The characters had so much depth, the plot was fast-paced and the references to Greek mythology were incredibly interesting.

The film adaptations of the first two books in the series, “The Lightning Thief” and “Sea of Monsters,” were a disappointment. They changed key elements of the original Percy Jackson we know and love, like the characters’ personalities and the monsters they encounter. Reading the series and knowing how badly the movie portrayed the storyline was painful. But the films don’t just fail as adaptations, they fail to be good movies. Even for people who didn’t read the books, the movies were just plain unenjoyable. They could not stand on their own if they were not tied to the Percy Jackson series.

The pacing in the movies was jarring and the emotional development of the characters felt awkward and forced. Although the acting was decent, the characters felt one-dimensional at times. The focus of the films rested much more on the action and fight scenes than anything else.

Disney+ plans to release a television series adaptation of Percy Jackson. The good news is that Rick Riordan is on the writing team for the show. Hopefully, his influence will result in a series that stays true to the books, only deviating from the original plot in ways that are entertaining, improve upon the novels and translate their events for the silver screen.

The episodic format is also promising for the upcoming Percy Jackson release. TV shows typically can better adapt their source material because they have a longer runtime compared to movies. “Pride and Prejudice,” similarly, had a TV series adaptation on the BBC that was much more faithful to the original story. 

Despite this, I am still scared of how it will turn out. The Percy Jackson movies have permanently lowered my expectations.

Contact Caitlin Brannigan at cbrannig@nd.edu.

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Viewpoint

Beauty in simplicity: Children’s television

I had only once seen the 2002 Disney classic, “Lilo & Stitch,” as a child. Although I eagerly watched (and rewatched!) Disney movies as a child, all I could remember of this particular movie was thinking it was adorable. Upon rewatching it as an adult, I expected a lighthearted, feel-good film about a young girl adopting an alien.

Instead, I was greeted by the heart-wrenching story of two sisters rebuilding their lives after the tragic loss of their parents. Like many of the greatest children’s films, “Lilo & Stitch” excels at communicating heavy, adult themes to children while maintaining its entertainment value as a cartoon about a cute alien and his companions. The value of children’s television like “Lilo & Stitch” to people beyond its target audience cannot and should not be overlooked. 

Lilo, 7, and her sister Nani, 19 — struggling financially and emotionally — stumble across trouble with otherworldly authorities when they adopt an alien named Stitch. Lilo, believing Stitch to be an injured dog, buys him from the shelter as a pet. Much of the conflict throughout the movie, on the surface, centers around Lilo and Stitch’s escapades in Hawaii. 

However, many moments in the film allude to heavy emotional conflicts in a way that children would understand, but might not read too much into. For example, at one point Stitch contemplates leaving Lilo and Nani. As she watches him go, Lilo clutches a photo of her sister and parents, saying, “If you want to leave, you can. I’ll remember you, though. I remember everyone that leaves.” 

The message is simple and easy for a child to grasp: Lilo is upset about Stitch leaving, and it reminds her of her parents’ tragedy. The movie goes on, however, and the conflict between the aliens and Stitch recaptures the young audience’s attention. This kind of storytelling makes the movie’s darker themes accessible to younger audiences; scenes like this clearly convey Lilo’s sadness to children, even if they may not fully understand how Stitch represents her grief and fear of abandonment. The movie moves past its emotional conflicts to scenes of Lilo and Stitch goofing off or high stakes physical conflicts with the alien authorities — quickly enough for younger audiences to appreciate the movie for being fun and cute, while still understanding the emotional hurdles the protagonists face.

This is a huge part of what makes children’s television like “Lilo and Stitch” so great. Other major hits like “Avatar: The Last Airbender and “Steven Universe” employ similar tactics to convey real-life problems, like LGBTQ+ issues, ableism and colonialism to children using fantasy elements to metaphorically represent and mirror the problems that many people face both now and in the past.

Simple constructs can convey so much to both children and adults in a way that is entertaining and fun. For example, in “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” a character named Toph is smothered by her parents, unable to leave her home and enjoy the world because she is blind. Toph is also an “earthbender,” a superpower within the show that she uses to control and essentially terraform the ground, rocks and even sand. Unbeknownst to most people, she understands the world around her by feeling the vibrations in the earth, which she refers to as her own way of seeing. 

Her parents believe her to be “fragile” because of her disability; however, it is one of her greatest strengths. Because she has learned how to feel the vibrations in the Earth, she is one of the greatest earthbenders and fully capable of protecting herself. Despite this, many people refuse to acknowledge her talents because she is a blind young girl. Toph’s struggles are the narrative of a girl constantly confronted with ableism and sexism, always proving those who doubt her strength wrong. 

Toph’s story, like “Lilo & Stitch,” is entertaining to both children and adults. But more than that, it’s important to show narratives like this in children’s television especially, both to teach children about real life issues and to empower young members of communities that have been repeatedly discriminated against. 

At a time when LGBTQ+ representation was not prevalent in children’s television, “Steven Universe” creator Rebecca Sugar fought to feature queer and nonbinary characters in the Cartoon Network show. 

“As I’m writing about this, as I’m pitching this, I’m also getting a lot of pushback,” Sugar said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “This was not considered acceptable material for children at the time. … [But] who is speaking to a generation of children about why they deserve to exist? About how they deserve to exist? I wanted to be able to do that.” 

Sugar perfectly describes why representation is so important in children’s television. Media is an integral part of our culture; having role models like the characters in “Steven Universe” is incredibly important to support young children and make them feel accepted into a society in which there is so much conflict about people’s identities. 

Children’s television may not be considered by society to be important to a child’s development or entertaining to adults, yet many works contradict this sentiment. The genre’s ability to convey difficult topics like grief and trauma to a wide range of audiences cannot be ignored, as well as its power as a tool to teach young children about real-world problems. Works that feature underrepresented minorities can be empowering for young children in a society that discriminates against many communities. For these reasons, the value of children’s television cannot be understated.

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

Caitlin Brannigan

Caitlin is a sophomore from New Jersey studying psychology and English. She will forever defend her young adult novels and is overjoyed to have a platform to rant. She can be reached for comment at cbrannig@nd.edu or @CaitlinBrannig on Twitter.