The weekend opened early Friday evening with one of my dad’s go-to jokes. The one I’ve heard 100 times, but that everyone else finds hilarious when hearing it the first time. “I always tell my kids, follow your dreams . . . or you’ll end up working in a bank.”
The parents, siblings and friends gathered for dinner at The Mark restaurant on Eddy Street burst out laughing. Most of the men sitting there work in banks. So we kids saw the humor in it, too — even my 11-year-old brother.
Notre Dame hosted another Junior Parents Weekend in February. Better known as JPW, the three-day event is a University tradition in which parents of junior-year students visit campus for a glimpse of their son’s or daughter’s life at Notre Dame.
My father and mother — Terry and Debbie Loughran, both Class of ’91 — were two of those parents this year. I missed my own JPW because I studied in London last spring, so this year my brother Ryan graciously let me, my sister Kelly, a Notre Dame sophomore, and our brother Andy (Notre Dame Class of 2026, we hope) join the fun.
By the time our food arrived, my dad had taken a break from cracking jokes. I chatted with the parents of my brother’s closest friends, boys who over the past three years have become my surrogate brothers — especially in those times when I couldn’t carry my suitcases up three flights of stairs in Lyons Hall.
After dinner we made our way to some parents’ room at the Morris Inn to “pre-game” the Opening Gala. Sipping drinks from plastic ND-monogramed cups, the stories began to roll out. Stories about crazy piano instructors, my Dad’s own JPW experience with his parents in 1990, run-ins with Father George Rozum, CSC, during the boys’ years in Alumni Hall and the time Ryan’s friends Jack and Tom crashed a wedding at the Morris Inn.
The moms kept congratulating me on (almost) graduating and saying how proud they were of me — You’ve done it, made it through college! Suddenly I felt much older than my brother and his crew.
The fathers and sons expected us girls — in our dresses and heels — to walk with them to the Purcell Pavilion for the Gala. We thought they’d know better by now. Without a thought, we called an Uber to chauffeur us across campus. We beat the boys there.
We didn’t stay long. The parents agreed after a couple drinks and egg roll hors d’oeuvres they were ready to dance to some classic ’80s hits, so they headed to a friend’s off-campus house. I peeled off to The Linebacker to meet up with my senior friends. The Backer’s Long Island Iced Teas were deadly, several parents reminded me. Duly noted.
After the President’s Dinner Saturday night, Ryan and his friend Carl led the parents to an after-party at Compton Family Ice Arena, but didn’t recognize any of their friends in the crowd. Next thing they know, an usher approached them at the bar. “Excuse me, you all need to leave.” That’s when it hit them: Eck Center, not ice arena.
My mom laughed it off. “Who would kick us out of a party?!” she asked, snapping a picture of Ryan and Dad in Compton as if they were guests.
After the “incident,” a couple of my friends and I met my parents at a house party. We arrived in time to find the moms taking over the stereo to turn on Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself.” Then they showed us how the ’80s were done, with side-to-side snaps, Madonna’s “Vogue” and their version of the Running Man. Next thing I knew, my father is in the center of the dance floor, a circle forming around him, music blasting, everyone cheering him on.
Ryan laughed as we watched from the circle. “Dad is killing it on the dance floor and now everyone is going to think he is cooler than me.” Sure enough, we woke up the next morning to see my dad the star of everyone’s SnapChat story. Every day for the next week I would hear some version of “Kit, your dad is the most incredible dancer. He was the life of the party.”
It’s funny how our friends see things in our families that we can’t always see ourselves. Ryan and your Dad are the same person, just 27 years apart, friends joked. “We were talking with both of them at once and then couldn’t handle it — there were two Ryans.” Or, “You and your mom talk the same exact way,” followed by “your mom and your sister look identical.” With every comment, I realized how much we really are like our parents — despite how much we fought that growing up.
The next morning, Ryan, Mom, Dad and I somehow made it to the Closing Brunch by 10. Not too keen on the food, we feasted instead on what speakers gave us to chew on. Lou Nanni ’81, ’84M.A., Notre Dame’s vice president of University Relations, reminded us that family is at the core of what is most meaningful in our lives. Family is heart-rending, yet simultaneously joyful and hilarious. He shared the stories of the late author Harper Lee, who received her honorary Notre Dame degree in 2006, and her praise of the Notre Dame family; of Father Ted’s sense of purpose and his ferocity in his loyalty to this place, how he led the Notre Dame family to make a difference and to do what is right.
Junior Abby Radomsky, the student JPW chair, talked about what she referred to as a “Notre Dame moment”: Those times when the Basilica bells chime the alma mater as you walk back from the library, or when you take a moment to pray at the Grotto as the snow falls.
For my family, this JPW was our Notre Dame moment. I realized that this is where we all grew up — whether in 1991 or 2016. It’s where we’ve made our life-long friendships, figured out our passions, even if that meant working in a bank. It’s the place where maybe at one point we drank too many beers at CJ’s, or pulled all-nighters in Club Hes. Notre Dame is where we stood on the bleachers in Section 36 chanting “Go Irish!”, laughed until we cried eating dinner at South Dining Hall and grew in faith attending dorm Mass on Sunday nights.
My mom and dad weren’t authority figures that weekend. They got to be college students with us. They got to see how we’re growing up like they once did.
For the first time, Ryan and I saw that our parents really had become our friends. We discovered that we are becoming people who can just hang out together.
I’m fortunate that my immediate family is also all part of the much bigger Notre Dame family. That I can bond with my parents over similar experiences 25 years after they graduated showed me why Notre Dame is so special. This isn’t the case for every student. But the Notre Dame family grows a little bigger at every JPW. You don’t have to have a Notre Dame degree to see how the place helps us support, challenge and identify with each other, how it encourages us through our failures and becomes part of our successes. Maybe a little like Harper Lee, those parents are now officially part of the family, too.
Kit Loughran, a senior marketing major with a minor in journalism, ethics and democracy, is this magazine’s spring intern.