Building on tradition: Legacies thrive at Notre Dame
By SAM DERHEIMER
An alumnus tosses a football down South Quad to his 6-year-old son on a sunny fall afternoon.
It's a Notre Dame sight all-too-familiar to every student. It's a Notre Dame tradition students know will one day become a reality for them as well.
Many students dream of the time when it will be their turn to bring their kids back to Notre Dame for their chance to play a little pre-game catch.
The unusual thing is, for an exceptionally large percentage of students, it is a dream already achieved — only from the other perspective.
As applications from the Class of 2004 start arriving, the admissions office will undoubtedly receive many applications from students already well aware of the traditions inherent in the name Notre Dame. And a lot of them will be accepted.
Twenty-three percent of the current undergraduate are not the first from their families to attend Notre Dame. The Irish, in fact, boast one of the largest legacy tallies in the nation. Only schools such as Stanford, Princeton, Yale and Harvard have legacy numbers that are on the same level as Notre Dame.
And these legacies have a very significant role in the Notre Dame community.
"So much of our school spirit comes from the legacies," said sophomore Luke Ratke, a second-generation legacy. "These kids come in already knowing what it means to be a part of the Notre Dame family. From experience, we've already learned to love Notre Dame, and it kind of like becomes our job to teach those who don't understand yet."
Such an atmosphere growing up can not help but breed exceptionally high expectations.
"For me, all my expectations were met," Ratke said, "but I know other people, basically programmed since birth, came in with expectations so unbelievably high, nothing could have met them."
"Personally, I think it's a good thing," said sophomore Dane Rodriguez, who is not a legacy, "I knew there would be a lot of tradition coming in, and I was attracted to that family aspect of Notre Dame I had always heard about."
Some students have a slightly more negative view. An O'Neill Hall freshman, who wished to keep his anonymity, questioned the University's intentions with legacies.
"It just seems that this heightened school spirit comes at the expense of denying qualified students admittance to the University," he said. "Is school spirit that much more important than academic standards?"
For their part, the admissions office ardently denies that standards are lowered in order to offer admittance to legacy applicants.
While the office openly admits that like athletes and faculty children, legacies are considered special cases, the office said they are not judged any differently than other applicants.
Still, many students, including legacies themselves, remain unconvinced.
"I figure being a legacy had a huge part in my being admitted," said sophomore Ryan Flanagan. "I mean, I'm a smart guy, I can handle myself here, but sometimes I wonder, how did I get in?"
But this may just be another case of overly high expectations. Influenced almost since birth, legacies come to Notre Dame feeling almost unworthy, like they've been blessed. And maybe they have.
"It's why we sell out pep rallies, it's why we can meet someone, anywhere in the country, and when we find out they're from Notre Dame, there is an instant bond," said Ratke. "It's all those things other colleges don't have."
All News Stories for Monday, October 11, 1999