Under Pressure: Great Expectations

Author: Claire Kramer '18

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of student-written pieces that accompany the article “What’s Best for Them,” by Kerry Temple ’74, published in the autumn 2016 issue.

I sit at my favorite barstool in my kitchen at home, hugging my knees, shins pressed against the edge of the counter. My mom leans on the other side of the counter; we’ve finished cleaning up from dinner and the sunlight is still visible. The evening air is cool, but not enough to be uncomfortable. It’s that sort of air that gives you goosebumps after the summer heat, but then you get used to it.

Summer used to be getting those goosebumps coming in dog-tired from a day at the neighborhood pool, fingers sticky from a popsicle, and falling asleep on my bedroom floor because I was too tired to climb into my bed.

But now I’m in college. Now I’m a student at Notre Dame. Now summer is an opportunity. Sure, it’s a break from classes. But it’s not a break from the expectations. Long gone are the days of camps and play dates. Now we have internships, summer service grants, study abroad programs.

As I sit here, home from my internship at a sportswear marketing company, I’m overwhelmed. I’m worried. I tell my mom I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. But I’m also afraid of something else, something perhaps bigger than not knowing what job I want: I’m afraid my passions aren’t big enough to fulfill the Notre Dame expectation.

I’m afraid that, after graduating from Notre Dame with an American studies major (which I love), I won’t find a job that fulfills my interests and also fulfills those expectations of what a Notre Dame alumna does — because at Notre Dame, it’s not enough to be okay at something. We have to be extraordinary.

We must change the world. We must make a difference. We must leave our mark. We must fulfill these inspiring clichés and more. And we have to love doing it.

We have to build a well in Africa and cure cancer and win a Nobel Prize. We have to love it here. We have to work hard, play hard, pray hard. And we have to be successful.

There’s no such thing as a personal definition of success. Well, there is, but all success must be recognized. It’s not enough to pull a B in the hardest class you’ve ever taken. It’s not enough to finally get eight hours of sleep one night. It’s not enough to be a stay-at-home mom or dad. Because how can that look good on a banner?

All that glitters is not gold, but under the Golden Dome, if you don’t glitter, you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t catch the light and momentarily blind your beholder with your smarts, your talent, your athleticism, your passion, then you might as well have not gone here at all. Still, I’d be lying if I said that the excellence of Notre Dame didn’t draw me here.

I chose to major in American studies because I like the classes. I get to talk about politics and history and religion and sports and music and movies and American culture. But while I love this coursework, I don’t know where it will lead me. I want a job that I love, but it seems to come with other requirements: It must be a highly competitive, highly visible and highly recognizable position. And I must change the world.

I love my hometown. Thinking about returning and raising a family while working in the city I grew up in is exciting to me, but then I remember something: I go to the University of Notre Dame. And it’s harder to say that I want to go back home. It almost feels like a waste. Of all the things that a Notre Dame graduate could — and should — do, how could I just want to go back home?

I trudge down the stairs in O’Shaughnessy Hall after a study-abroad class, exhausted after a full day of classes from 9:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., with more meetings to come. The walls are blanketed in brightly colored flyers hawking new class offerings, informational meetings, grant programs and scholarship opportunities. The dizzying array of colors and missed opportunities seems to scream at me as I descend the staircase, making my steps heavier, slower, sadder.

Look at everything you’re missing. Why aren’t you doing more? You are a student at the University of Notre Dame. Maybe you should start acting like it.

That night at my kitchen counter, my mom tells me to watch a TED talk from one of the most prominent sports agents in the business, in which she talks about her rise from tennis pro to professional agent. One quote stuck with me, and it’s on a canvas that hangs above my lofted dorm bed:

Know your why.

I want my “why” to be my passions. If only it were that easy. Because it’s my expectation, it’s everyone else’s expectation, it’s Notre Dame’s expectation that I’ll leave after my four years and change the world for the better.

Maybe I’m taking it the wrong way. Maybe changing the world doesn’t mean what I think it does. But it’s hard to think I’m wrong when so many around me are gunning for jobs at the “Big Four,” or spending their summers in Africa or Asia, or getting drafted into professional sports leagues.

Because if Notre Dame is based on excellence, how can my understanding of changing the world not be the same? How can my “why” be anything short of incredible?

Claire Kramer is a junior in American studies and the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She is from Olathe, Kansas.