Hopefully this post doesn’t seem long overdue. I have been back from my Labor Day weekend trip to Notre Dame for over a week now, and have twice promised you loyal readers some reflection on my alumni status.
I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to actually sit down and write this post. I had originally planned on posting it last week, immediately after I returned from the trip. But I think the extra time to think, and even chat with a few friends about it, was beneficial.
Although if I were doing any sort of wacky psychoanalysis on myself…I might acknowledge that writing a post about officially being an alum puts a note of finality on the whole graduation thing, and I was trying to delay that. But hey, it is September already. About time to face it, don’t you think?
And actually, what I have to “face” here isn’t so bad. This alumni gig is pretty fun (and not just because I don’t have homework anymore). I got to see and experience a football weekend from an entirely different perspective…staying off campus with friends who still live in the area, driving to campus for a pre-game tailgate, not having a dorm room to seek shelter in when the weather turned apocalyptic and Notre Dame Stadium was evacuated. And that was probably the one moment all weekend when I sincerely, truly, wished I was still an undergrad. When I got drenched in a thunderstorm and didn’t have dry clothes to change into.
Other than that, I mostly just felt excited to experience Notre Dame from this new perspective, as an alum. My fellow recent grads and I are entering a new facet in our relationship with Notre Dame, and I think it’s going to be a really fun one.
Of course, I don’t think there will be anything quite like my first visit back to campus as an alum. Every place I went was packed with memories of the last time I had been there, before the great divide, when I went from a student to an alum.
- Going back into Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since our graduation ceremony, and for the first football game since our glorious defeat of Top 25-ranked Utah in our Senior Game
- Returning to the Grotto (a place of prayer and reflection on campus, a replica of the Grotto in Lourdes, France), when the last time I was there was the night of graduation, with my friends, crying, laughing, reliving our four years together, and facing imminent separation
- Stopping by the Joyce Center Ice Rink, where I had my last public performance as a member of the Notre Dame Synchronized Skating team
- Walking the same path, across Library Quad, to the stadium, that I did on the morning of May 22, in the Graduation Procession
Flashbacks, everywhere I went, of the last time I had been there, that made me acutely aware of the divide between students and alumni.
But I have to say, it still felt like I was coming home, the moment I set foot on campus. It was great to know that that whole “home under the Dome” feeling doesn’t go away as soon as they hand you a diploma. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I still know so many people on campus, and all the places are still familiar to me. Check back in 40 years, when I go back for a visit and can’t find anything while I hobble around with a cane, and we’ll see how I feel then!
So I was visiting home for the weekend (don’t worry, parents, ND is my second home. I do still love my actual home.), and I’m sure all of you who have gone away and then come home know exactly what that feels like.
But instead of spending the weekend wishing I was still an undergrad, I spent the weekend being grateful for the experience; grateful that I had at one time called Notre Dame home, and grateful that I can still come back and visit. One particular moment from the weekend kind of sums up how I’m feeling:
I’ve never been to a game at Notre Dame Stadium where I wasn’t in the student section, until this visit. We just happened to have seats in the visitors section (less than ideal, I know…especially with the outcome of the game), which gave me a perfect view of the student section. And this is where the corny, “I’m obsessed with where I went to college” alum in me comes out. Man, did the student section look cool. A blue mass of cheering and waving arms. And instead of wishing that I was over there with them, I was just overcome with this feeling of gratitude, of, “Wow, I got to sit over there for four years.”
I was almost relieved that this trip made me feel happy and grateful, instead of depressed. A little bit of me was worried I would go back and miss my old (read: comfortable, awesome) life, because my new life is in such a state of limbo and uncertainty. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and I can’t tell you why, but I’m not going to mess with the good vibes. I’ll just continue to feel grateful for what I had, and, to borrow from my friend’s words in a post from last week, I will do my best to bring that spirit of Notre Dame to the world.