As campus revives from the lull of summer and pulses to the beat of student energy, I realize I am no longer en tempo with Notre Dame.
After graduating in May, I returned just weeks later to work at Notre Dame Magazine. It’s true I barely left the University — just enough time to repay my sleep debt and purchase furniture for a new apartment— but somehow it was long enough to make me feel like a stranger here.
Shortly after moving I went one Sunday evening to the Basilica for Mass and stood in the back, uncertain where I fit in among the rows of campers and ACE students and parishioners. I scanned the church, looking for a familiar face. There wasn’t one. For the first time, I felt alone at Notre Dame.
The school year’s start brought more feelings of estrangement. I became abruptly aware that I was no longer a student. I had traded in my textbooks for a University-owned laptop, my McGlinn dorm room for a cubicle in Grace and studenthood for the ranks of Notre Dame employees.
As the year revved up and students fell into the patter of their course schedules and social routines, I realized I was marching at a pace unlike the one I followed for four years. I now look for the best dry cleaner instead of the best pint specials. I wake up with the sunrise instead of going to bed with it. I go home at the end of the day and don’t dig through stacks of homework.
This life has its perks, certainly. I don’t miss long nights in the library or shouts in the hallway late into the night. I love the handy pass that allows me to drive onto campus (which I admittedly do often just to spite the guards who wouldn’t let the student-me enter on rainy nights).
But still it feels a bit off. I’m uncomfortable lacing up my sneakers and running with the students at Rolfs. I feel like I’m intruding when I walk around my residence hall — my home for four years — to visit friends. And the thought of writing on the second floor of the library or the basement of LaFortune, favorite haunts of my undergrad days, makes me cringe.
In recent weeks I have had conversations with friends about how lucky I am to still be at Notre Dame. I undoubtedly am. But I must remind them that I am not at the Notre Dame of our undergraduate days.
I don’t spend hours drinking coffee in Waddicks or eating in the dining hall. I’m not planning costumes to themed parties or looking for a date to an SYR. I’m not wrapped in the fervor of everything Notre Dame was to us for our four years. I’m in meetings and lunches on campus, but more often than not I’m staring longingly at the same nd.edu homepage they are, wishing to be back at that Notre Dame.
As an employee I’ve seen some of Notre Dame’s allure die away. Like any institution, it has a corporate side, one given to money and politics. While it strives for good, it doesn’t always achieve it.
This Notre Dame is still undeniably special. I am surrounded by talented and compassionate people I am humbled to call colleagues. I get to say a quick prayer to Mary on the Dome every day as I walk into work. And perhaps more than anything, I have the opportunity to take what I learned at Notre Dame — maybe not those lessons on French existentialism or human diseases — but the lessons on faith, community, intellectual growth and truth, and apply them to the institution that illuminated them for me.
This place changes, and so do we. We transform into who Notre Dame taught us to be, and we come back new to a new place. It can be eerie and uncomfortable, but it’s also beautiful to know that the place is always evolving, always advancing, all while maintaining a bit of the home it was to us, no matter how long ago.
Tara Hunt is an associate editor at Notre Dame Magazine.