I still have vivid memories of setting foot inside Notre Dame Stadium for the first time.
Notre Dame was playing Stanford in football on the first weekend of October in 2002, and I had come to visit the campus for the first time. I learned quickly that this was the place I wanted to call home for my college years.
I still recall the colors on the trees, the aromas in the air and the sounds of the “Notre Dame Victory March” filling my ears. The atmosphere and energy on campus that weekend were something I had never before experienced. The way the students, the alumni and the fans treated the Irish that day, as well as how they treated the opposition, sold me on this place.
Five years later, I leave Notre Dame with the same admiration and appreciation for the students, alumni and fans as when I entered. I came here expecting to win national championships in football, and, while that did not happen, my Notre Dame experience didn’t suffer any because of that.
Notre Dame stands for what is right in collegiate athletics. This place means more than wins and losses—and the character and pride demonstrated by this year’s team, along with the willingness to continue working and to never give up, are something I’ll always be proud of. Don’t get me wrong, the two Bowl Championship Series seasons I was a part of in 2005 and ’06 were more enjoyable than this most recent season. However, the people supporting the program were just as great during this difficult 3-9 season as they were when we won nine and 10 games.
None of us was happy with this substandard year. There were disappointments and frustrations and even tears. And yes, sometimes it was hard to maintain perspective, in part because of the emotional way in which so many people view our program. However, the encouragement the team received at home and on the road was something truly unique to Notre Dame. For that, I offer a sincere thank you.
Looking back on five years here, I’ve learned more than I anticipated. Coming in as an 18-year-old kid, you don’t fully know all the changes you’ll go through as a person, as a student and as a player because of this place. I’ve made friends I’ll cherish forever, I’ve learned a great deal in the classroom, and I learned many lessons through all sorts of social interaction out of the classroom.
Many of my closest friends at Notre Dame were not necessarily teammates from the football team. I lived in Saint Edward’s Hall for three years and developed friendships with lots of other guys in that hall. I have a friend in med school in Chicago and another who is an officer in the Air Force and is currently living in California. I have another friend who works as an engineer in Baltimore and yet another doing missionary work in South America.
The academic life has been challenging, entertaining and rewarding. Whether it was an American history course taught by Father Thomas Blantz, CSC, or one of Jim McKenna’s anthropology courses, I always knew I had some of the best professors in higher education and that they would help set me up to be successful when I left Notre Dame.
The end of my time at Notre Dame has caused me to reflect on the five years spent on this campus as part of this community. What I found was something I learned when I first visited campus back on that October Saturday—this is truly a unique place.
This university and this community have become such an integral part of my life. Even though I’ll never wear our famed gold helmet again, I’ll also never stop bleeding blue and gold for Our Lady.
John Carlson, a resident of Litchfield, Minnesota, graduated with a double major in history and anthropology. During his fifth year at Notre Dame, he was enrolled in the graduate studies program. His immediate plan is to focus on his football career.