Storm Clouds Over the Stadium

A student who stayed behind while his friends flooded the field understands their impulse, but couldn’t bring himself to join them.

Author: Jack Lyons ’21

Stormthefield The author’s vicarious view of the victory celebration

To echo the words of countless other Notre Dame fans this weekend, I'll never forget that Clemson game.

There were so many things to celebrate: a double-overtime win against the best team in the country. An unseasonably warm night in South Bend. The boundless energy of an 11,000-person crowd that sounded 80,000 strong. It was, as I shouted to my friend multiple times throughout the game, “the reason you come to Notre Dame.”

But as often as I recall that legendary night, another memory will surface too. The image of standing in a deserted student section, three rows back from the 50-yard line, watching my friends and peers rejoice with abandon on the field of Notre Dame Stadium.

The students stormed the field. God I wish I could have joined them.

That’s a recurring thought in my life this semester. Ever since our campus reassembled in August, the temptation to live a normal life — as if there were no COVID-19 pandemic — has been omnipresent. Despite this temptation, I’ve done my best to follow all the health and safety rules enacted by the University.

My biggest motivation for following health protocols is protecting myself and others from getting sick. Still, another reason I’ve tried so hard to be diligent is because I work as a resident assistant in my dorm. In a normal year, Notre Dame RAs focus on building community and serving as a resource for residents, but this year our task also includes enforcing COVID-19 policies — most significantly, that students wear masks and not have guests. When infractions occur, difficult conversations follow, but they would be much harder if I were not abiding by the rules myself.

Let me be clear, following the rules is not hard. I don’t speak for all of the student body when I say this, but wearing a mask as I sit in class, hang out with friends, or even go for a run does not bother me. And while sharing a meal with groups is a bastion of the college experience, the outdoor areas provided by the University (combined with a kind autumn in South Bend) are great places to do that.

No, the hard part of this year is not following all the health rules. It’s dealing with the social consequences of following those rules. As a senior, many of my friends live off campus, and seeing them is no longer just a matter of making time, it’s also about calculating risk. While it may be desirable to care about the safety of yourself and others, it’s not exactly fun. Like all my classmates, I wanted senior year to be fun. 

I’m sure storming the field was fun. God I wish I could have joined them.

But I couldn’t. As fellow students hurtled past me, something in my brain just wouldn’t click; the neurons wouldn’t fire to move my legs to run down the bleachers, clamber over the wall and stream onto the field with my friends. I knew it was wrong. However fun it would be, however cool it would be to say I was there, none of it was “worth it.”

Some might say I’m virtue signaling here, elevating myself on a moral plane above my peers. I’m not the one to determine the validity of that accusation, but I certainly disagree with it. I want students to be safe, and I try to lead by example, but that doesn’t mean I condemn those who act recklessly.

Some observers of our campus do. They think college students are shallow not to forgo partying and the pleasures of a pre-pandemic lifestyle. They may be right, but I wonder whether there’s something deeper at work here. For college students, are those social comforts just another way to unwind? Or are they closer to the heart of our identity? Do we party to have fun or to fulfill the image of who we think we should be? 

If the latter is true, that doesn’t make anyone’s actions justifiable or safe. But I do contend that, when the world you spent three years dreaming of collapses, it’s a battle to find meaning in the new things, the things we didn’t expect for our lives. This semester is infinitely better than “Zoom University,” but comparisons like that don't cure heartache. They’re much too logical.

These were the thoughts that cluttered my head as I watched students jump around the field, taking pictures together. I will never be in those pictures. I was in the stands and they were on the field. 

I tried to comfort myself as I went to bed that night. It’s worth it, I told myself as the shouts of revelers seeped through my window, carried in by the mild, almost springlike breeze. You’re doing the right thing, and sometimes that feels lonely.

God I wish I could have joined them.

Jack Lyons, a senior studying theology and journalism, is a former intern for this magazine.