Hindsight in 2020

Missing the end of senior year is a disappointment, but we don’t have to be on campus to be together — as the far-flung, close-knit Notre Dame family knows.

Author: Mary Bernard ’20

Marybernard The author (back left) and her classmates never imagined they’d miss the end of their senior year. But they’re still close, from afar.

I will be finishing my undergraduate career at home, in front of my computer. And I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. 

When I left Notre Dame for spring break, I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be coming back. I was in a rush, a backpack and small carry-on in tow, figuring whatever I left undone could wait a week and a half. A week and a half has become two months — the last two months of my senior year.

I won’t spend late nights in the basement of the Hesburgh Library. I won’t walk to class, passing Touchdown Jesus and the stadium. I won’t get to hug my friends as we have our last dining hall meal, last dorm Mass, last basketball game — little did I know, those lasts already happened.

So many milestones that we’ve been looking forward to have been prematurely interrupted by COVID-19. But this is an ending that’s particularly close to my heart.

When I first visited Notre Dame while in high school, one refrain echoed throughout campus: “Welcome home.” On Welcome Weekend, when I stepped foot in Breen-Phillips Hall for the first time, I heard it again: “Welcome home.”

My junior year, I spent the fall semester in the Washington Program and the spring studying abroad in Morocco. After 15 months away, I longed to return to campus.

I’d taken challenging classes, pursued my dream of being a journalist, made new friends and met interesting people. But I never, truly, felt at home away from Notre Dame. I never really found a family.

Back on campus after so many months, I returned with fresh eyes, new appreciation and a reassuring sense relief and comfort — Notre Dame had become home and my community there had become family.

I couldn’t wait to start my classes in DeBart. I longed for the normalcy and ease of South Dining Hall. I was so happy to know that my friends were, at most, a 15-minute walk away. Even living off campus, Breen-Phillips remained a home and a community on campus, where I knew I’d find familiar faces, a cozy place to study and, likely, food being shared.

I treated the first three-quarters of my senior year like any other time on campus — like the end was far-off, because I thought it was. I slept in too often. I studied too little. I spent too much time in the newspaper office. I was stressed, over-caffeinated and thought I’d save the celebrating for the end of the year. My senior year was routine, dominated by school and work — it was monotonous, even, at times.

But it was still my senior year. And the normalcy of it all reflects, in the truest way, my time at Notre Dame.

My four years weren’t defined by senior weeks, commencement balls, booze cruises and tearful goodbyes. They were everything that came before — running late to a class that’s across campus, staking out my favorite studying spot in Duncan, sunbathing on North Quad anytime the clouds parted, grabbing a quick dinner with my friends because they lived just down the hall.

Those are Notre Dame memories that I’ll have forever. I really couldn’t ask for anything more.

These next two months won’t be lasts, after all — for most of us, they’ll be firsts. Online classes are new to me. Spending two uninterrupted months at home is unfamiliar. Staying largely inside, avoiding anyone but family, is unprecedented for us all.

We’ve all seen our normal routines flipped on their heads, transformed in a way that would have been unimaginable just a month ago. This brings a range of emotions — fear, anxiety, sadness.

I take comfort in the fact that, even though we’re apart, we’re all in this together. And in the encompassing sense of “all” — the global community that the pandemic has revealed to be so closely intertwined — that I find some solidarity. As alone as we feel, as separated physically as we must be, this crisis knits the world together. It reminds us just how connected we are.

So many college seniors are processing the same news, the same prospects of an anticlimactic end to their greatest academic feat yet. Notre Dame alumni around the world understand why it’s so heartbreaking to be away from campus during what should be a celebratory season. But the Notre Dame family isn’t bound by location, just like my college career won’t be defined by these last, lost months of senior year. 

We will miss out on some important events on campus. That’s disappointing. But thinking back on the years I spent there, even the days I rushed through campus and didn’t take a moment to appreciate the Grotto or the Golden Dome, I’m grateful I got so much time there, at all.

Notre Dame is a special place, but that feeling doesn’t come from the beautifully manicured lawns or the echoes from the football stadium. It comes from the friends we have made, the professors who have shaped us, the rectors who have comforted us. It’s the feeling of finding a second family.

Distance learning won’t change that. In fact, for many of us, we need each other more than ever to get through this challenging time. We need our classmates who are feeling the same loss. We need the professors and the rectors, adjusting with us. We need the many classes of students who came before us, who understand better than most why this drastic change has an acute sting for the Class of 2020.

Because when we mourn this ending, we mourn together, as one Notre Dame family.

Mary Bernard, an anthropology major and journalism minor, is finishing her senior year at home in St. Louis.