University of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame

PERSPECTIVES

Don’t Fear the Specter

My first-year experience had a profound impact on my academic pursuits, because I was struck by the inspirational words of Dr. Richard Pierce in one of my orientation sessions on being a student-athlete. In the midst of lectures on NCAA rules and procedures, Dr. Pierce spoke about what it means to be a student-athlete. But it was less a speech, more a poem, a charge, a call to action, and a challenge. He told us, “Don’t fear the specter” – the daunting challenges that lie ahead. Some of the challenges are there motionless to be surpassed, some will actively resist, but progress only results in confronting the specter with the full knowledge of its reality. It is a message for everyone, and ultimately, it is the reason I became an Africana Studies major. His charge has remained ingrained in me since freshman year, and, while aimed at student-athletes, is applicable to each and every student.

Part of this specter is the high standard to which we hold ourselves, and by which the freshmen are expected to enter into Notre Dame. So here is what you need to know: an expectation of the standard our atmosphere creates; an understanding of the engagement possible in the academic arena; and a recognition that experience does not come from the classroom alone.

As students at Notre Dame, we are taught through Catholic Social Teaching the Corporal Works of Mercy: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked. We are taught to give shelter to the homeless, to visit the sick, to free the enslaved, and to bury the dead. At Notre Dame, however, we hold ourselves to a higher standard. It is not simply enough to feed the hungry or give drink to the thirsty, but to ask why there are those who are hungry or who have nothing to drink. It is not enough to visit the sick but to begin to understand why they are ailing. And it is not enough to bury the dead, but to understand the systemic injustices which contribute to these deaths. It is not enough to do these things: at Notre Dame, we ask why such injustices occur. We ask this simple question, and more importantly, we begin to understand the systems in which we operate and which affect our lives, whether through our interactions in residence halls, or our immersion and research trips across the world. This question truly sets us on a life-long journey where “learning becomes service to justice.”

A second privilege of our time at Notre Dame is the pursuit of interdisciplinary entrepreneurship – the fact that discovery takes place in the intersection of subjects and ideas. One of the most fulfilling academic experiences is being able to use information gained and parsed in one class for engagement in another. Through the classes at Notre Dame, we expand ideas to opportunities. One component of this form of entrepreneurship is active engagement with faculty members. I learned early on that it is never too early to begin meaningful mentoring relationships with professors on a span of topical areas.

The final revelation is when students recognize that the Notre Dame experience is a holistic one. There will be both “before and after” moments – moments clearly defined by a singular event – and moments of pause and reflection. Each of these moments presents us with an opportunity for growth in all spheres of our lives at Notre Dame. Our lives change from events and processes both inside and outside the classroom. The classroom experience reinforced by extracurricular engagement changes points of view, challenges foundational beliefs, strengthens and affirms convictions, and sets students on a path of cultivating growth beyond their college years.

So, go forth, and don’t fear the specter. Embrace it.