The Road that Led Me Here

My Notre Dame dream took a detour to Saint Mary’s, a place that became — and remains — essential to my college experience.

Author: Veronica Navarro ’23

Veronica Navarro The author on her well-traveled avenue between Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame. Photography by Matt Cashore ’94

I had no choice but to be a Notre Dame fan. Growing up in South Bend, I couldn’t go a day without driving past campus, seeing someone wearing ND attire or hearing my dad scream at the TV during a football game. Naturally, I dreamed of attending the University. My sole motivation for earning good grades was to be told that I had a great chance to go to Notre Dame. 

The dream wasn’t only mine. At age 7 or 8, I remember sitting in the back seat telling my dad that I wanted to go to Notre Dame. He told me he would work three jobs to afford the cost. As a low-income student, I felt even more motivation because of his dedication to my success.  

By high school, I realized how far-fetched my dream might be. I always attended public schools and noticed how far ahead my private-school counterparts were. I didn’t have money to pay for expensive SAT prep or private tutoring. Still, I tried my best to earn good grades and participate in tons of extracurriculars. I submitted a restrictive early-action application to Notre Dame. On December 18, 2018, I received my long-awaited admissions decision. 

At dinner with friends, I nervously checked my email, entered my password to the decision portal and read my letter. “We have completed our review of your credentials, and I am sorry to inform you that we cannot offer you admission to Notre Dame.”

I was crushed. I wondered what I could have done differently, if I could appeal the rejection or if any of my friends got in. My college decision process essentially started all over again. I had to research other options and begin sending applications to other schools. I remained hopeful that I would end up where I was meant to be, even if it wasn’t Notre Dame. 

In April, I committed to attending Saint Mary’s College, not only for the close connection to Notre Dame, but also because I fell in love with the calmness of the campus, class sizes and the many different majors offered there. I was elated that I found a place where I felt like I belonged — but was still determined to try to transfer to Notre Dame after my first year.

I loved every second at Saint Mary’s. While making new friends and taking classes I enjoyed, I participated in multiple clubs at Notre Dame. Nearly every evening, I would take the bus to the Hesburgh Library for mock trial practice and stay for a few hours before escaping to my quiet sanctuary in Regina Hall at Saint Mary’s. I loved this routine, and I planned to continue it for the rest of my college years. 

I decided that I might not try to transfer, after all, because I was so happy. I had met some of my best friends and managed to secure an amazing on-campus job. I built relationships with my professors and was able to take classes in many different disciplines. Just in case, though, I asked a professor to write me a letter of recommendation to transfer. 

The Avenue

When the second semester came around, I began having trouble in one of my classes and gave up any thought of transferring. Since I was happy at Saint Mary’s, and I might not earn the necessary GPA for admission to Notre Dame, I no longer prioritized writing my essays or filling out the application paperwork. Deep down, I feared another rejection. 

During spring break, I received an email from University admissions reminding me to complete my transfer application. With nothing else to do that week, I decided that I would. The worst they could say is no, right? 

One of the essay prompts asked how I would contribute to the Notre Dame family. This was the essay that I took the longest to write, mainly because I wasn’t sure what more I could be doing. As a Saint Mary’s student, I already participated in Notre Dame clubs, had friends there and was on campus nearly every day. So, instead of writing about new things I would do after transferring, I wrote that I was already a part of the Notre Dame family and that getting involved at the University made me fall in love with it even more. 

My experience isn’t unique. Nearly every Saint Mary’s student is involved at Notre Dame in some capacity — playing in the marching band, writing for The Observer, cheering from the student section during sporting events, working in a dining hall. The contributions Saint Mary’s students offer to Notre Dame made me proud to attend the College. 

After applying to Notre Dame again, I continued at Saint Mary’s as I would have otherwise. I accepted a resident assistant role that would begin my sophomore year, planned what my room in LeMans Hall would look like, even purchased my books for the upcoming semester. I decided that even if I got into Notre Dame, I would have to think hard about my decision because I had grown to love Saint Mary’s so much. 

On May 29, 2020 I received an email notification that there was a status update in my applicant portal. With little hope of an acceptance, I quickly opened the email in search of a sentence beginning with “We regret to inform you.” Instead, I was surprised to see “Congratulations! On behalf of the Committee on Transfer Admissions at the University of Notre Dame, I am delighted to report your qualifications have earned you a place as a first semester sophomore for the fall 2020 term.”

While I’d love to say that I carefully weighed both of my options to determine where I’d be a better fit, once I opened the acceptance letter I knew where I belonged. At that moment, I achieved a dream I had been chasing since elementary school. I transferred to Notre Dame and became a resident of Pangborn Hall that fall. 

After my first semester, I missed my community at Saint Mary’s more than I could have ever imagined. Luckily I knew about the co-exchange program that allowed me to earn a Notre Dame degree while taking some classes at Saint Mary’s. I’ve done that nearly every semester. Between classes there and visiting friends, I ride the bus to Saint Mary’s four or five times every week. 

I’m confident that I’m meant to be at Notre Dame, but part of my heart still resides in Regina Hall, the third floor of the Cushwa-Leighton library, the booths in the Noble Family Dining Hall and on the bridge across Lake Marian. 

Saint Mary’s allowed me to become a part of the Notre Dame family, all while taking classes I loved and building strong relationships with the amazing women around me. My college experience wouldn’t have been the same without Saint Mary’s, and I wouldn’t change a thing about my Notre Dame journey. 

Veronica Navarro, a senior and South Bend native, was this magazine’s summer intern.