Eight a.m. sharp last Friday morning, and I’m standing in the D-2 parking lot near the Stepan Center. It’s a bit overcast but thankfully no rain vibes in the air . . . yet. I’ve got my yellow-gold “Proud to be ND” t-shirt and a fistful of Welcome Weekend booklets. An out-of-state SUV rolls up to the head of the Flaherty Hall line, and I head over to the driver’s side window for my first encounter of the day. “Welcome to Notre Dame,” I exclaim once the dad rolls his window down. Then, reaching out to pump his hand, I follow up with a hearty “Congratulations!”
For two years straight, my wife and I were the beneficiaries of this kind of Irish hospitality. My son entered Notre Dame as a freshman two years ago and my daughter did the same last year. Both times, we made the rounds to all the Welcome Weekend activities, meals and presentations. It was all very informative, very reassuring. But I’ll tell you, nothing could top those first enthusiastic greetings we received as we pulled into the parking-lot staging areas for drop-off. “Welcome to Notre Dame!” Always with a huge smile and plenty of verve, there was no doubt that the volunteer dads and moms meant what they said.
And with good reason, for they knew that our vehicle hid at least one young man or woman who was there to move into a dorm, get acclimated, and begin taking classes. We were nervous both times, much more than our freshmen were, but our anxieties momentarily melted away with that surge of vicarious confidence that our parent hosts imparted. How could it be otherwise? Our kid was going to Notre Dame!
Thus when I got an email this summer about opportunities to serve as a parent volunteer, I jumped at it. What better way to demonstrate my gratitude for those other first-greeters than to become one myself? As it turned out, I had the added benefit of greeting parents whose children would be moving in to one of the new, palatial residence halls — as if coming to Notre Dame wasn’t great enough by itself. Flaherty for the women and Dunne for the men: it was cause for double congratulations.
“It looks really nice,” said one father of an incoming Dunne resident, “but my son is a little concerned that he’ll miss out on an older dorm’s legacy and traditions.” Point taken. Certainly a highlight of my son’s Notre Dame experience has been living in tradition-drenched Alumni Hall. Before I could reply, however, the mother said to her son, “You’ll get to start new traditions yourself. You’ll be a tradition originator.”
It occurred to me that her apt insight applied to much more than new residence halls. Certainly Notre Dame is rich with history, but it’s also dedicated to keeping up with the times. Several alumni parents dropping off their freshmen noted the altered landscape on campus since their own days. Yet these parents all seemed to feel the changes reflected the University’s commitment to providing the best opportunities for its students.
Besides, college is all about originating. The vast opportunities available at Notre Dame make possible the myriad trajectories these students will follow.
That’s what I was thinking as we dropped off our sophomore daughter at Flaherty on Sunday. She’s in the Program of Liberal Studies, a Great Books-oriented humanities major that’s all about tradition. It was a striking contrast — the brand-new dorm already filled with brand-new freshmen, and my daughter, the budding medievalist, keeping us connected to our past. But it makes an important point. All of these young women, along with their fellow Domers, may now find their place at Notre Dame and create a new future — for themselves and for our world.
So, yes, welcome to Notre Dame, new students and families, and welcome back to those returning. Congratulations for achieving the just-being-there, and God bless you as you take advantage of everything “there” has to offer.
Rick Becker is a writer and registered nurse who teaches nursing at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana.