Thursday, September 4, 2008

Here Come the Irish (AKA the longest Notre Dame post EVER)!

Is anyone else as excited about college football season being underway as I am? I'm a bit hesitant to boldly profess my love for a certain team, considering our not-so-stellar performance on the field in recent history ('though I get the feeling that after suffering through over a decade of mediocrity, "recent history" is no longer an appropriate phrase). BUT, as I remind myself every football season, it's not just about football . . . it's about supporting and celebrating an exciting albeit popular facet of my Alma mater, the University of Notre Dame.

To borrow my father's carefully chosen words, I am "cautiously optimistic" about the 2008 season. More than anything, though, I am excited to once again be an active part of such a wonderful tradition. In case you're wondering (and to remind myself should my cautious optimism fade to pessimism at some point this autumn), the following are the reasons--some predictable, some more obscure--that I love and support my Alma mater no matter what:

1) The campus is beautiful. And by beautiful, I actually mean . . . breathtaking . . . and stunning . . . no, heavenly. Okay, I give up--words just can't do it justice. See for yourself:

Somehow (yes, even when buried under 4 feet of lake-effect snow), the campus always appears as pristine in person as all of the promotional photos/videos make it out to be. I can still remember one of the first times I stepped foot on the campus (around the age of three). Even at that young age, I knew I was in a very special place. I could sense the immense respect my father had for the campus and I wanted to emulate that respect. At the time, it translated into a refusal to step foot on even a single blade of grass--I would yell at my family if they tried to take a shortcut or dared to step off the sidewalk. I guess that's the thing that's so cool about the campus, though . . . people just seem to treat it with so much respect--cleaning up after themselves, throwing trash away, using sidewalks, recycling, etc. And I have to say, after 20+ years, I'm still awe-struck each time I drive in from Chicago and catch that first glimpse of the golden dome. Simply magical . . .

2) I have met some truly amazing people through the University of Notre Dame. While I was in school, I was constantly humbled by the brilliance, talent, generosity, ambition, and work ethic of those surrounding me. So often, I found myself thinking, "Wow. I am so lucky to know and get to learn from these people." Even today, my Notre Dame friends are the most remarkable human beings I know. Whenever we're together, I am overwhelmed by how incredible and accomplished they all are--not necessarily financially or professionally (although there's definitely some of that too), but as friends . . . and, more importantly, as people. They exhibit qualities that elude me even in a city of 8 million--things like loyalty, compassion, courage, sincerity and even good old-fashioned manners. I find that I myself am indeed a better person when in the presence of these great men and women. Who could possibly ask for more out of their friends?

3) As hokey as it sounds, there really is a "family" feel at Notre Dame. I think what it boils down to is the communal generosity and respect Domers have for one another. I was constantly taken out for off-campus meals as an undergrad as generous parents would visit and treat huge groups of us to "real food." My friends' parents would send in hometown specialties by the dozen (mmm, Cheryl's Cookies!) for everyone in my huge group of friends to enjoy. Heck, I would answer the phone in friends' rooms and chat with their parents even if their daughter happened to be out at the moment! As a result, our families are all intertwined, and I am extremely close to the parents and siblings of many of the people I associated with at Notre Dame.

Many professors at Notre Dame go the extra mile to make their students feel welcome at the school. Many of my professors, for example, would invite their classes into their homes on their own time--for home-cooked meals or even just a quick escape from campus life. I still keep in touch with several of these professors today, and am so grateful for the wonderful examples they set for me.

Beyond the obvious support from friends, their families and professors, though, were the countless acts of selflessness I witnessed during my time on campus. There was the kindness of the upperclassmen in my dorm and the way they acted like protective big sisters to us as freshmen; the way they would offer us rides to the grocery store, or lend us their favorite clothes, or take time out of their busy schedules to help us with our latest nightmare of a gen-chem assignment; there was the generosity of alumni host families in cities throughout the country, taking students into their homes so that we might serve their communities through summer service internships; there was the response in the dorms to tragic news of any type and the way everyone would immediately band together to support whoever was in need; there was the way random passersby always knew when you needed a smile; or the time I forgot my ID and the stranger in line behind me offered to buy my late night caffeine fix with his own "flex points." The beauty of it all is that being around such kind people really does rub off on you and make you want to act in the same way . . . it's kind of like that insurance commercial where all the people witness a good deed and then go do one of their own. Random tangent, I know . . . anyway, moving on!

3) The lakes at Notre Dame were made for running (see--one that relates to running)! There are two beautiful lakes on Notre Dame's campus (St. Mary's Lake and St. Joseph's Lake), and they are both surrounded by cushy soft dirt paths. Let me tell you, I had some of the best runs of my life around those lakes! Oh how I miss them now . . .

4) Notre Dame is set in the middle of crappy South Bend, IN . . . so it's like an oasis in the middle of an urban crap desert! I kind of love that about the school. I'm pretty sure the fact that the school is able to thrive in South Bend, IN is a testament to how special it really is.

5) People take pride in their dormitories. At Notre Dame, we don't have sororities or fraternities, but there is some crazy dorm rivalry going on. When we attend football pep rallies, we all wear our dorm shirts and scream dorm cheers at the top of our lungs. Personally, I was a BP (Breen-Phillips Hall) "babe." ("WHO are we? BP! WHAT are we? BABES!"). Ah, good times. I think the emphasis on dorm pride and the relationships we have with our dorm-mates do tend to keep a much larger percentage of students on campus all 4 years than at other universities. While I did NOT choose to stay on campus all four years, I can certainly understand why people do it . . . dorm life at Notre Dame is actually a lot of fun!

6) The number of t-shirts I ended up with. I swear, I do not even know HOW this happened, but one day I woke up and realized I had somehow accumulated approximately 70 ND t-shirts. I know I didn't pay for all of them, so I'm not quite sure where they came from--it's a mystery to this day--but hey, between ND shirts and race shirts, I'll never need to buy another t-shirt so long as I live!

7) The fact that my ND friends are so into football, they create multiple tailgate spreadsheets during the weeks leading up to the games. I know this one is football-related, but it just goes to show . . . even if the game ends up sucking, at least we enjoy the tailgating!

8) The fact that students come to Notre Dame from all over the country/world--it just makes for such an interesting dynamic. My freshman year roommate (who I'm still really close to) was from the island of Maui. I had SO much fun watching her and another close friend from Savannah, GA play in snow for the first time ever . . . it's just one of those super cool things that not everyone gets to experience.

9) Our band is incredible . . . truly incredible. And at ND, we don't look at the band kids as "band geeks" or whatever. There's again a tremendous amount of respect for the band members and the fact that they are just so . . . talented! Oh, and I should probably mention that our victory march is pretty much amazing.

10) The pasta stir-fry in the North Dining Hall. Okay, seriously . . . this was pretty much the best thing ever. You could pile various types of pasta, veggies, meats, etc. onto your plate, and then give it to the dude and he'd cook it all up for you with one of their yummy sauces. The line was always SO long, but it was SO good. Mmm, chicago pizza sauce!

11) The Grotto. In case you've never seen it, this is the Grotto:

It's one of the most comforting places on earth. Freshman year, my roomie and I would always go to the Grotto on Friday nights before football games and pray for the team. Okay, fine . . . we were specifically praying that our team would win. Maybe it wasn't the most well-guided of prayers, but it was a neat tradition. In addition to these Friday night rituals, I spent many a low moment at the Grotto. Somehow, I always walked away feeling far more balanced and at peace than I had been before.
12) The Hesburgh Library. Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I used to hang out a lot on the 2nd floor of this magnificent building. I was lucky enough to be placed in a dorm right near the library, so it just happened to be really convenient to spend a lot of time "studying" in there. Okay, fine. So maybe I did have a crush on a football player who frequented the 2nd floor of the library, and maybe I didn't really get all that much "studying" done in there. But still, it's frickin' gorgeous, no?

13) I love that I am actually proud to call myself a Notre Dame fan. I've visited many other campuses for away games, and I'm not going to name any names, but opponents aren't always treated with respect on those campuses. I am happy to say that, in my 20+ years of attending football games, I've never seen a Notre Dame fan taunt or try to start trouble with an opposing team's fans (and I've certainly never seen full beer cans chucked at middle-aged women's heads . . . or full buckets of water dumped over innocent students' heads). That's not to say it doesn't happen, but a true fan would never ever risk harming the reputation of the University by acting in such a way. I know the second I use the "c"-word (class), I'm going to get screams of "elitism," but we really do expect it of our fans. People can call us "elitist" if it makes them feel better, but the truth of the matter is we're just extremely proud to be a part of the University of Notre Dame. We don't look down on those who are *not* fans; but we totally get a kick out of those who are. It doesn't matter if you attended the University or not . . . so long as you are a true fan, I think you're awesome (and will talk your ear off, if you're not careful!).

14) Waffles. Weird thing to list, no? But seriously, our dining halls have waffle-irons that create a cute little interlocking ND in the middle of your waffles. How cool is that? I'm so sad that I can't find a photo to illustrate this phenomenon!

15) The student section. Oh, how I miss the student section of the football stadium. Some of my fondest memories in life come from there. Our electrifying chants of "WE ARE . . . ND!" reverberate in my head from time to time, and I'm brought back to those moments of complete and utter unity amongst the student body. Win or lose, we were (and still are) proud to be ND.

16) Each day of my life, I can't help but wish I could go back to Notre Dame and relive my college experience all over again. It was simply . . . perfect. And that's saying a lot. I spent countless hours during my childhood dreaming about what it would be like once I finally got there. I worked my butt off and completely over-extended myself during my junior high and high school years with the hopes that maybe-somehow--I would find my way into that University. I cared so much about the football team, I cried when we lost. Getting into Notre Dame was literally EVERYTHING to me. Thus, it's only natural to think that I might be a little let down upon arriving there. But that simply wasn't the case. My experience at the University of Notre Dame was far more than I ever could have expected--more than I ever could have asked for--more than I could have possibly deserved. The school truly does shape its students and turn them into remarkable people. I am forever grateful to the University of Notre Dame for the person it has helped me to become.

I'll end this on a lighter note. This is what I will be doing one week from Saturday at the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game in South Bend (let's hope I learn how to make a prettier face before then!):



Gnat8 said...

i know exactly how you feel! i'm a senior at University of Tennessee right now and football season is like a religious experience! sadly we got off to a horrible start again this year losing to UCLA though. what year did you graduate? the t-shirt thing is so true 2! i'll be cheering for your irish today =)

Laura said...

Cornell didn't have a big football team (our sport was hockey), but so much of what you said resonated with me! We had the gorgeous library, the pasta and stir fry stations and the waffle irons with "CU", the gorgeous campus, diversity, etc... I miss it a lot!

I get to go back this week for three days for recruiting and I'm totally psyched! One thing I'm definitely doing is buying a Cornell poster to frame and put in my room in New York :)

Meg said...

I have to agree with Laura about your post reminding me of Cornell!
I'm not much of a football fan, or else I'd have some trash talking about UM-ND next week. ;-) Have a great time!

Irish Cream said...

Thanks for your comments, guys! It's actually really great to hear that you all had similar college experiences . . . it seems like most of the people I'm friends with here in NYC do not feel that strongly about their colleges or keep in touch with their college friends at all. I always end up wishing they could have come to school with me, and thinking it's not fair they didn't get to have as wonderful an experience as I did . . .

gnat8: I graduated in 2004--almost time for the 5-year reunion actually (yikes)! Somehow it still seems like yesterday.

I also would just like to point out that Tennessee is NOT one of the "nasty" schools on my list--I've never been there myself, but I've heard great things from other ND fans about how nice and classy the fans were--and how beautiful it is. I'll have to make it out to see your campus some day for sure! Best of luck to you throughout the rest of your season! I'm sure you guys will turn it around ;)

Laura & Meg: I love that you guys had the waffle irons too--I always thought they were so funny! I've heard absolutely wonderful things about Cornell. Ha, if I had actually applied to anywhere other than Notre Dame, Cornell definitely would have been on the list! :) And thanks not trash-talking, Meg! I get enough of it from my boyfriend who went to UM for 2 years before transferring to NYU!

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