University of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame

PERSPECTIVES

The Spirit of Notre Dame

By the time I returned to Notre Dame after the fall break of my freshman year, I felt like I had things pretty much figured out.

During that first month, I dove into a diverse course-load, attended my first-ever football game, took S.C.U.B.A. lessons in the murky waters of St Joe’s Lake, and began tutoring a local third-grader. I was now the one giving direction to visitors rather than asking for them, and I had mastered the proper NDH vegetable-line etiquette. I was getting the swing of things.

Then, on the last football Friday of the year, I found myself working the cash register at the Burger King in LaFortune. The line was out the door, and one older gentleman was taking a long time to place his order. He paid, and then asked whether I was a student. Eager to keep the line moving, I replied rather impatiently that I was.

“Do you know how lucky you are to be here?” he asked kindly.

Amid all the hustle-and-bustle, I stopped.

It was on that November day that I decided that, no matter how acclimated I thought I had become to life at Notre Dame, I would not allow myself to get too comfortable here—to take it for granted.

Freshman year is, for most students (including myself), a whirlwind of new experiences and opportunities. Beginning Orientation weekend, students are confronted by professors, rectors, and upperclassmen urging them to make the most of their time here. They encourage us to conduct research; to apply to study abroad; to participate in extracurricular activities and attend networking events. This is all excellent advice.

But the turning point of my Notre Dame experience was when I took the time to slow down and really reflect on why I had come here in the first place. What set Notre Dame apart from other places I considered was its commitment to cultivate not just its students’ minds, but their spirits.

I have come to realize that the true “spirit of Notre Dame” does not lie in the glint of the Golden Dome, the quiet of the Grotto, or the buzz of Saturdays in the stadium—the things which struck me at the start of my first year. The spirit of Notre Dame lies in the people who call this place “home”. It was only when I began to move beyond the fairly-obvious advice of “getting involved” and “meeting people” that I fully encountered it: by getting to know not just my professors, but my housekeepers; by taking the time not just to eat dinner with my dorm-mates, but to listen to their stories. By thinking about what Burger King Man had to say, instead of just waving him down the line.

I wish someone had told my post-fall break freshman self to slow down just a little and genuinely listen to the people around me. To ask questions. Four years later, people like Burger King Man are the ones who have taught me the most important lesson I’ve learned here: to live by what Henri Nouwen called a “discipline of gratitude”—“the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy”.