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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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de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture holds annual fall conference

Last weekend, Notre Dame held its twenty-second Ethics and Culture Fall Conference.

The de Nicola Center’s website described the conference as an event that brings together “the world’s leading Catholic thinkers, as well as those from other traditions, in fruitful discourse and exchange on the most pressing and vexed questions of ethics, culture, and public policy today.”

The theme of this year’s conference, “And It Was Good: On Creation,” featured daylong programs with several presentations, colloquiums, discussion panels and plenary keynote lectures. Many explored the questions of whether it was plausible to believe in a created universe, the theological implications of creation or the role of humans within the created world. As such, the theological discussion centered mostly around the first three chapters of the book of Genesis.

However, this was not the only topic, as presenters also explored matters of philosophy, physics, mathematics and artistic, literary or creative expression.

Regarding this year’s theme, the de Nicola Center wrote, “In the created world, Pope Francis writes, we are able to perceive ‘a grammar written by the hand of God’ (Lumen Fidei). If creation is a language, what can we discern regarding the creator?” The conference explored “the many facets of the created world and the act of creation, including questions of cosmology, teleology, natural ends, natural law, the Imago Dei, creaturely status, ecology, stewardship, cocreation, recreation, redemption and more.”

Notre Dame students and faculty as well as guests from all over the country enjoyed a complimentary reception on all the days of the conference, meals and daily mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

“I think in particular for me it was a gift to be able to speak to the speakers and ask them questions,” said Aviva Lund, a Notre Dame senior who attended the conference. “One of my favorite talks was ‘Creating the Beloved Community,’ and it was really cool to see how they incorporated Catholic Social Teaching as well as the philosophy of agape to then go back to our communities and be present both on an individual and group level.”

She added, “With that, it was really exciting afterward to be able to talk to the speakers directly one on one and ask them for their advice on how I could incorporate that into my own life as a student here.” Lund said she was also grateful for the opportunity to listen to other students and scholars.

Marcelle Couto | The Observer

“Since the first conference in 2000, this annual event has become the most important academic forum for wide-ranging conversations that engage the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition from a variety of disciplinary points of departure,” the de Nicola Center wrote.

According to the website, past conference speakers have included Nobel Laureates and this year, speakers included Robert Pogue Harrison, Simon Conway Morris, Jacqueline Rivers, Kristin Collier and Alasdair MacIntyre, discussing subjects ranging from “Creating the Beloved Community” to “Neural Organoids and Chimeras.”

MacIntyre, of the de Nicola Center itself, has been a continual lecturer throughout all 22 years of the conference. He has made contributions to moral and political philosophy and is especially known for his book, “After Virtue,” in which he examines the historical roots of the concept of virtue.

This year, he presented on “The Apparent Oddness of the Universe: How to Account for It?,” which poses an argument against the notion that the universe is odd and unpredictable. Through what MacIntyre calls “singularities,” “humans are able to think, speak and act in an unpredictable manner.” Singularities are “unpredictable utterances; whoever predicts it is the author.”

According to MacIntyre, because we believe there is “no place for oddities within a law-governed, determined and probabilistic universe,” we tend to assume the universe is no such thing. However, because “God created humans in His image,” this therefore involves the “possibility for humans to act creatively,” and creativity itself can be either benign or malignant as Macyntyre defines. This includes, as MacIntyre boldly suggests, the ability to act in ways God cannot predict.

Because God’s omniscience involves knowing everything there is to be known, and singularities are necessarily expressions of thought and not physical occurrences in themselves, “God must respond to them as they happen,” MacIntyre said.

In addition, MacIntyre posits singularities are concurrent with the recent discoveries of quantum physics as well as the theory of “emergent properties of the universe.”

MacIntyre also argues against a strictly dualistic view of minds and bodies, claiming that the physical is constantly taking on new forms; “human beings are bodies informed by the soul, and not bodies containing souls,” he said. He added, “We are all the outcomes of decisions that could have been otherwise.”

Other prominent lectures examined the question of how mathematics came to exist in the universe, the role of the arts, lessons from C.S. Lewis for modern society, a new manifesto for contemplative realism and the question of whether there was a cosmic plan for the universe.

The closing plenary lecture by Elizabeth Lev, an art historian at Duquesne University, was titled “Creation, Complementarity and Saint John Paul II in Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling” and explored the masterpieces of the Sistine Chapel, revealing a detailed analysis of their surprises and mysteries.

Additionally, the de Nicola Center partnered with Stanford University’s “Boundaries of Humanity” project this year, which seeks to advance the dialogue on “human place and purpose in the cosmos, particularly with respect to conceptions of human uniqueness and choices around biotechnological enhancement.” 

The speakers, schedule and recordings for this year’s lectures can be found on the conference website.

You can reach Marcelle Couto at mcouto@nd.edu.

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London Global Gateway acquires G.K. Chesterton Collection

The University of Notre Dame London Global Gateway Program hosted a ceremony Oct. 27 honoring the acquisition of the G.K. Chesterton Collection.

The collection, the only surviving individual connected to the Chesterton family circle and curated by Chesterton expert Aidan Mackey, contains an assemblage of writings and personal artifacts belonging to the esteemed English Catholic author. 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, born in London in 1874, was a renowned journalist, poet, artist and writer of fiction. His writings explored an array of topics, such as philosophy, theology, Catholic social teaching, literary criticism, history and more. Over the course of his lifetime, he wrote 80 books, several hundred poems, 200 short stories, 4,000 essays and several plays. He is also well-known for his mystery novels starring Catholic priest and detective Father Brown.

Upon Chesterton’s death in 1936, Chesterton’s possessions were left to his wife Frances and Dorothy Collins, his secretary who became like a daughter to him. Collins donated the material to the British Library, and this collection was later acquired by Mackey. 

Sometime after Chesterton’s death, Mackey said he got a call from the British Library stating they had Chesterton memorabilia in their possession, and they would like to give it to him.

“I’ve still not recovered from this great richness of stuff,” Mackey said in an interview with Notre Dame London Global Gateway. “I’ve known people who’ve been involved with the British Library, and they too share my astonishment that this should happen just as casually as that. I’m not even sure that I signed for anything.”

Since his initial acquisition of the collection, Mackey said it has grown bit by bit, over many decades. The collection, he said, is home to primarily Chesterton memorabilia, not just his writings. 

The collection includes items such as Collins’ typewriter, used by Collins as Chesterton would dictate his thoughts to her, Chesterton’s hat, all the volumes of “G.K. Weekly,” a publication run by Chesterton beginning in 1925 until his death in 1936, his toy theaters and his drawings. These include drawings from when he was as young as 6-years-old, to doodles in his books that cover entire pages.

“I’m sorry to criticize him, but he was a vandal with books,” Mackey said. “His cigars and his books at school and at home, wherever he was, covered page after page with extravagant doodles and so on, not just in the margins but right across the text.”

Other personal items that are part of the collection, Mackey said, include the academic gown made at Edinburgh University, Chesterton’s favorite pen, some dolls and puppets collected by his wife, and the things that were in his pockets and at his bedside table when he died. This includes his spectacles, his rosary and a paperback copy of one of Ernest Bramah’s “Kai Lung” novels. 

Chesterton, as Mackey said, “had the gift of appealing to people with widely different views,” and the University hopes the collection draws interest not only from Chesterton fans but from individuals who may resonate with one of the many aspects of his work.

“There is a universality in the appeal of this collection,” Ronan Doheny, the G.K. Chesterton archivist at London Global Gateway, said. “The collection will appeal to fans of Chesterton, to our students, to historians, to Catholics, to students of theater, and this collection just shows how extraordinary and universal of a man he was.”

The Notre Dame London Global Gateway’s acquisition of the Chesterton Collection holds great significance to the University because of Chesterton’s special connection to the school. In 1930, Chesterton was named a visiting professor at the University’s main campus and was granted an honorary degree.

David Fagerberg, professor of theology, said Chesterton gave 36 lectures in Washington Hall during his 6-week stint as a professor, and about 500 students attended each lecture. Before his departure, Fagerberg said, Chesterton wrote a poem about Notre Dame entitled “The Arena” after attending the first football game in the new Notre Dame stadium against Navy. 

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You don’t know me! I don’t even know me!

“Know thyself.”

This Socratic maxim is carved into the stone of the entrance to the Temple of Apollo, and it represents a philosophical quest that has challenged all of humanity since consciousness. The quest to know thyself — to understand who we are and why we are — is the greatest point in the state of being human which one can achieve. What good is having all the answers, all the money, all the success, if we don’t know who we are? If we don’t have an understanding of our true selves?

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this quest because I’ve come to realize lately that I don’t really know myself. Of course, I can recite my Notre Dame introduction without a thought, or my response to the inescapable first question in every interview (“Tell me about yourself”). But when asked something far beyond that — something that goes deeper than this surface level, label-centric layer of myself — I’ve found that my mind goes blank.

How sad is that?

I think I — and probably a good amount of people — have begun to lose sight of who I am beyond the facets of myself which affect the way others perceive me. By “others,” I might mean my peers, recruiters, professors, interviewers, strangers, random people on social media or anyone outside of myself. My perception of who I am, I’ve come to realize, has been shaped for far too long by how I think others see me. Instead of asking myself these beyond-the-surface questions like what makes me happy or what makes me feel most alive or what I’m proud of myself for, I spend so much time berating myself with thoughts like:

“Why don’t I look like that?” “Why am I not smart enough?” “Why am I not good enough?” “Why am I not cool enough?” “Why am I not outgoing enough?”

I don’t totally blame myself for this, either. In a campus filled with incredibly talented, intelligent, superbly ambitious students chasing one accomplishment after the next, in a society inundated with platforms solely concerned with outward perceptions, in a world where achievement is the way to a good life — it’s easy to lose ourselves sometimes.

To realize that I don’t really know myself is scary. But maybe it’s not horrible. Perhaps to not know myself means that this concept of “self” isn’t static, and it’s not permanent. There’s a certain freedom in this realization. Tomorrow, I can wake up and decide to dye my hair if I wished to, start listening to a new genre of music, take a new path from my dorm to class, introduce myself to someone I don’t know. I’m beginning to realize (finally, two whole decades into life) that how I see myself is more important than this idea of Meg that exists in other people’s minds.

Maybe I don’t know myself, and maybe I never will. Perhaps nobody really knows themselves. Maybe “thyself” is not someone to know, but someone whom I should allow to live a full life not completely shackled by fear of how others perceive me. I don’t totally know myself, but I’m beginning to learn to like myself a little more.

Knowing thyself is hard. Maybe liking thyself is enough.

You can contact Megumi at mtamura@nd.edu.

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

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Ansari Institute awards Australian Scholar with Nasr Book Prize

The Ansari Institute awarded the first annual Nasr Book Prize to Australian scholar Tyson Yunkaporta Sunday night for his book, ‘Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.’

The award, according to executive director of the Ansari Institute Mahan Mirza, was created to “recognize an author who’s written a remarkable work and contributes to fresh thinking about global issues.”

Yunkaporta, a member of the Apalech Clan in far north Queensland, Australia, said he explores global issues from an indigenous perspective in “Sand Talk.”

“I’m not sure the book was arguing anything so much as just really trying to speak from an indigenous worldview,” Yunkaporta told The Observer. “But I didn’t bother trying to explain myself and what it meant. I just looked at the world and spoke… from who I am.”

Yunkaporta, in his book, ponders the importance of intergenerational relationships. The practice of sand drawings in his culture, he said, creates traditions that can remain for far longer than physical data.

“Long after all the books crumble into dust and all the computers are just a geological layer, my children’s children’s children’s children’s children will still be drawing the same thing in the sand,” he said. “That’s the only way to safely store data, it’s in a story, intergenerational relationships.”

Mirza said temporary art, such as sand drawings, best capture how knowledge is contextual. The permanent nature of western textual knowledge, he said, can be damaging because “it’s removed from its point of origin.”

The book passed the new award’s four eligibility requirements, St. Olaf College professor of religion and philosophy Anantanand Rambachan said at the dinner. 

The award required the author to have an authentic voice, be academically informed, engage in contemporary issues of global affairs and have been published within the past five years. After listing each requirement, Rambachan quoted “Sand Talk” to show how the book qualified.

The Ansari Institute had over 30 submissions for the prize, Rambachan said, and the selection committee narrowed the pool of contestants down to five books.

“Then, we read all the five, and we unanimously said this book,” he said.

Along with honoring Yunkaporta, the dinner featured a “yarn” in which Yunkaporta conversed with Carolyn Brown, the board chair of the Fetzer Institute, about his book’s message. 

Yunkaporta demonstrated the art of sand talks for the audience at the end of the discussion, drawing symbols in a small sandbox on stage representing indigenous ideas. 

The award dinner, held at the Smith Ballroom in the Morris Inn, was part of a two-day symposium in which scholars from different religious and cultural traditions engaged with Yunkaporta’s text in different panels.

While the prize dinner focused on the book itself, the symposium’s panels sought to foster engagement with the text, Mirza explained.

“The larger project is to generate a multifaith conversation around those issues that can somehow be convened by the book that has been published,” Mirza said.

Mirza noted his belief that Notre Dame is distinctly capable of flourishing an event like the symposium.

“Such an event really is possible only at places like Notre Dame that are both committed to academic research and at the same time, where faith is important,” he said.

Contact Liam Price at lprice3@nd.edu.