As a Notre Dame student, one of the things I liked best about my beloved university was that my friends were from all over the country: Chicago (shocking, I know), Missouri, Alabama, New Jersey, Colorado . . . I loved the different experiences, perspectives and worldviews everyone brought to our dinner table in South Dining Hall.
Now that I’ve graduated, I hate it.
My roommate, Sarah, isn’t in the loft next to me in McGlinn Hall, ready to stay up too late eating chocolate and talking about the future (or that cute boy from class). She’s in Washington, D.C., living and working in a group home for adults with disabilities.
AJ is in a different place every nine months, in a rotating finance program with General Electric. Chelsey is still in South Bend, pursuing a law degree at Notre Dame. Jordan is in Cincinnati at medical school. Some of the gang are teaching in Catholic schools around the country as part of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education.
And I’m in Boston, working in communications at an all-girls Catholic high school. The girls from McGlinn and the guys from the house on Frances Street are scattered throughout the country and even the world. I miss them all. We miss each other.
So a little over a year after graduation, a group of 13 of us returned to South Bend, ready to pretend we were still college students, at least for three days.
Within minutes of our arrival at the rented house on Angela Boulevard, the boys were in the backyard tossing a football around, discussing the latest ND football recruiting news. But for the 90-degree summer weather, it looked just like their Frances Street backyard on a football Saturday. Sarah and I, the consummate organizers, made a grocery run to Meijer.
Throughout the weekend, we hit all our favorite South Bend spots: Rocco’s for pizza, Studebagel’s for breakfast, the Basilica for Mass, and the Backer for awesomely bad ’80s music and dancing. The rented house on Angela soon became similar to the house on Frances Street, right down to the constant pile of dirty dishes in the sink no one wanted to wash.
In typical Notre Dame fashion, there were some moments of gender segregation. The guys claimed the basement as their own for some bromance time (though they would probably tell you they were just being chivalrous, since the only beds down there were couches and air mattresses). The first floor bedrooms became a makeshift McGlinn, with the girls sharing bathrooms, mirrors and bedrooms once again.
On Saturday night we had a bonfire in the backyard of the rental. S’mores and Bud Light Lime were on the menu. We sat around the fire and talked and laughed until the early hours of the morning, as if no time had passed at all. As if we hadn’t spent the past year apart. As if Monday would come and we would all head to class or the dining hall once more.
I was walking outside to join my friends around the fire when I heard the strains of Jack Johnson’s song “Better Together” over the speakers set up in the backyard. I paused, struck by the corny perfection of the moment, while Jack crooned, “Yeah, it’s always better when we’re together.”
I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. And I don’t think that song ended up on our playlist that night by accident.
These are the people who loved me, supported me, challenged me, laughed with (and, let’s be honest, occasionally at) me for four of the most formative years of my life. They know me like few other people do. And, thankfully, love and accept me anyway. For four years, I was blessed with a group of friends who brought out the best in me and in each other.
So, yes, it is better when we’re together, under the comforting shadow of the Golden Dome. But one of the best parts of that reunion weekend was hearing about everyone’s post-grad adventures. We enabled each other to go out into the world and to use our gifts.
That is what Notre Dame, and the Notre Dame family, is all about.
If that’s what I get in return, maybe this whole geographical separation thing isn’t so bad.
Maura Sullivan is the director of communications at a Boston-area high school. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.