Now, I realize
Senior Staff Writer
It was Freshmen Orientation 1999 and I was strolling on God Quad with my roommate. We stumbled upon an upperclassman that had inspired someone I knew in high school. After I told the student about his influence on my old acquaintance, the upperclassman asked, "Is she hot?"
And so my true college experience began.
Notre Dame has a mystique that draws people to the campus like students to South Dining Hall when it serves chicken strips. Though Notre Dame is arguably the No. 1 Catholic institution in the country (and the dining halls were supposedly No. 2 when we entered the University as freshmen), the rankings, the prominence and the "oohs" and "ahhs" can be deceiving. This is how I felt when the awe-inspiring student flippantly replied to me and my roommate.
Even so, the world is full of people, places and situations that seem inconsistent. As inspirational as the upperclassman was to a high school teenager, he was also a typical 20-year-old guy. Yet, his off-the-cuff remark did not destroy Notre Dame's reputation in my eyes. I've learned in these past four years that inconsistencies and obstacles will inevitably appear to complicate life, but there is always a chance to find a positive outcome.
It takes more than one silly remark or a more serious incident to shatter the dreams that we have tried to pursue at this institution. And the same way we entered Notre Dame with goals and ideas about positively shaping our lives and the world, we can enter postgraduate lives with the same determination and optimism.
Notre Dame is unique because we have made it that way. All of our dreams of traveling the world, becoming president, empowering the poor, building a multinational firm, curing the sick or creating a masterpiece, seemed that much more possible when we stepped foot on this green campus. The University is skilled at easing our transition into the lifestyle of this Indiana oasis.
When Notre Dame's blue skies turn gray and the green grass is covered in white, it's easy to question whether our dreams are worth the obstacles, but this Commencement Weekend — the celebration of an end and a beginning — should remind us that we made the right choice.
College graduates represent about one-fourth of the population. I had a political science professor consistently remind my class of that fact this semester, pointing out that attending an elite institution puts us in a smaller group. I will represent the roughly one percent of the population comprised of African-American female college graduates according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
While I know that I deserve a degree on Sunday after all the papers, tests and sacrifices I have made on behalf of my health in attempts to study at ridiculously late hours after a day of responsibilities, I must remember that celebration is not the only must-do after I turn my tassel.
Being a college graduate is more than a ticket to a high-paying job or a prestigious graduate school. Many Notre Dame students demonstrate this each year as they prepare for jobs in the Peace Corps, Teach for America and other programs available to those who want to build up the society in which they live. Being a college graduate is about understanding that you have a responsibility to continue in your pursuit of knowledge and experience. It's about knowing that even if you have been blessed with a great opportunity after school, you will not let your idealism vanish at the slightest barrier, but you will recognize it as a new challenge.
Many people are drawn to Notre Dame for the tradition, the communal atmosphere and the Christian values the University espouses. As a student, I have learned that not everyone cares about the Notre Dame tradition, sometimes this community is exclusive and not everyone is a Christian. But I've also learned that the notion of tradition can be transformed. Mike Brown, Molly Kinder, Brooke Norton, Tambre Paster and Tyrone Willingham are examples of this.
Also, students can find their niche in a sometimes exclusive Notre Dame through student clubs and other groups. As for religion, there are many outlets that allow students to strengthen their faith, but encounters with non-Christians are also fruitful and allow one to see the world from a new perspective.
I thank Notre Dame for exposing me to the real world in small doses. During the last four years, Notre Dame was the place that welcomed me with its golden reflection, where I found opportunities to travel to Italy, Chile and Cuba, where I met my best friends, where I confronted unpleasant realities, where I was intellectually and spiritually challenged and where I learned never to apologize for being myself.
And most recently, it is the place where I have realized that the three words the upperclassman said to me during my first week can be turned into a reflection of the past and hope for the future. As neo-soul vocalist Erykah Badu once sang, "Peace and blessings manifest with every lesson learned." Let the newest stage of your life bring many lessons and many blessings.
Helena Payne is a graduating senior and the former News Editor of The Observer. She will report for the Associated Press until she decides to try a new adventure and she would like to thank the Payne family for their unconditional love and support.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, July 11, 2003