Exactly one year ago last Monday, I graduated from Notre Dame.
What, already? How?! I can’t believe it, to be honest. Even though 365 days have nearly passed, it feels like just yesterday I was a senior. But then strangely within that same period of time, so much has changed since the days of class in DeBart, dinners at South Dining Hall and late nights at Club Hes.
To celebrate this milestone, my Class of 2016 friends here in Chicago decided to throw an anniversary dinner. As we were getting seated at one of our go-to places in the city, Parlor Pizza, we agreed how crazy it is that we already made it to the one-year mark, which spurred an endless chain of stories about the whirlwind of senior year and the big ceremony that capped it.
During Senior Week, my classmates and I bused to the Kentucky Derby and then headed over to Chicago for a cruise on Lake Michigan — and a Cubs game that got rained out — before returning to campus for our Commencement Ball, receptions and dinner parties with our families. “Fun” would be an understatement.
Then came time for graduation. I put on a happy if exhausted face. But, on the inside, I was sad. I didn’t want to accept that my time at Notre Dame was done. Finished. Complete.
Parents, grandparents, siblings, professors — they all kept congratulating my friends and me, telling us how proud they were of us. I thanked them, although to myself I kept thinking that this was the worst day. Tears were shed, and they weren’t happy ones. (Not to mention, it was a bitter 31 degrees inside Notre Dame Stadium in the middle of May.)
One year later, as my Chicago-based friends and I together talked about graduation, I no longer had the downhearted feeling that had overwhelmed me the day-of. Now I realize that our graduation is one of my fondest and happiest memories. Also one of my proudest.
That day we were celebrating each other, all our hard work over four years and all the memories we share. Singing the alma mater at the end of the Commencement ceremony, arm in arm, we were confirming that we did it. Four years of making incredible friends, passing (or, failing some) exams and finals, figuring out our passions, learning about ourselves, standing through freezing-cold football games, landing internships and interviews and securing full-time jobs. We had earned degrees from the University of Notre Dame.
Then, I recalled leaving a few days after graduation, and how anxious I was about having to venture outside my South Bend bubble, the safe confines of campus. No way was I ready for it! How was I going to be a real person? Did I pick the right career path in advertising? Was I going to like Chicago?
But as I looked around at my friends, all of us meeting up for pizza and beers after work, I couldn’t help but think, once again, we did it. We survived our first year in the real world. Somehow. There were plenty of ups and downs and lots of firsts and unknowns, but we got through what one year ago seemed so daunting to us.
This weekend I’ll be going back to campus for my brother Ryan’s graduation, and as an alum, I can already tell it’ll be a different experience for me. Having gone through that conflicting day last May, and sorting through the changes and challenges this year brought, I can genuinely be excited for him and his classmates.
All those things we accomplished during our four years at school prepared us for these new adventures, and those three frigid hours in the stadium were the launching pad for our success. While Commencement might have marked the end of our time as students, it didn’t mark the end of our time with Notre Dame. I continue to apply what I learned there and grow into the person the University shaped me to be. So as my friends and I head into Year Two of post-graduation life, Notre Dame is still very much a part of us. And I know it always will be.
Class of 2016, cheers to us.
Former magazine intern Kit Loughran is a public relations/social coordinator at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago.