When I was entering seventh grade, I decided that I wanted to be a good basketball player. When I let my aspirations known to my parents, my dad said that he was happy for me, but he then proceeded to tell me exactly how it was going to happen. Over the summer, I was to run for a mile and shoot 100 free throws every day. In hindsight, that may not seem like a whole lot of work, but for a 12-year old that would have been perfectly content eating candy and playing video games every day all summer, it was like a death sentence. So each day, begrudgingly, I rolled out of bed and worked out, usually after about an hour of bickering with my mom about it. Not surprisingly, I became a pretty good player and even won a few free throw shooting contests in middle school.
My blooming basketball career, though, is not the point of the story (my career was doomed after I failed to grow another inch beyond sixth grade). The point is that my dad instilled a routine in me, where I could count on doing the same thing day after day and, naturally, would become used to it. And that was the case. After a few weeks, running a mile and shooting 100 free throws really didn't seem so bad, it just became a part of life.
We all came to Notre Dame looking for an extraordinary experience. Notre Dame is different, they told us, and for many of us, that extra mystique is what drew us to this place. However, once you have spent a few years here, you pretty much have things figured out. You know the shortest route from your room to all of you classes, you know when to avoid the rush at the dining hall, and you have your favorite study spot picked out. For me, earlier this semester, there was probably a two week stretch where I followed the exact same routine every day: Wake up, eat, go to class, eat dinner and then go finish schoolwork. You would really only ever find me either in my dorm room, DeBartolo, South Dining Hall or on the first floor of the library, because that was the most efficient way to go about life. It was like being Bill Murray's character, Phil, in the movie "Groundhog Day," where he keeps waking up and living the exact same day over and over and over again. One day, as I passed the same person in the blue hat (who I've never met, but still recognize), at the same place and the same time on my way to class for the third Wednesday in a row, like clockwork, it struck me: Notre Dame had become ordinary. Instead of responding to "How are you?" with a positive, upbeat response, I found myself giving answers like "getting by" and "surviving." What had become of my experience? I decided that I needed to give myself a shot in the arm.
It started with little things. I decided that I was going to mix up my routine and walk to DeBartolo from Dillon along South Quad, not under the Law School Arch, if for no other reason than a change of pace. As it turned out, the very first time I did that, I ran into a good friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in a few weeks and we found a time to meet up for dinner. Obviously, not every walk down the quad ends up in a dinner date, but I would have never seen her had I chosen to walk to class along my regular path. In addition, I made it a goal to eat lunch at every dining establishment on campus before the end of the semester. As we all know, the dining hall can get repetitive; especially if that is the only place you eat for weeks at a time. This turned out to be an worthwhile goal, because now I have discovered awesome places to eat like Café Poche in Bond Hall, Greenfields and, my personal favorite, Decio Commons, all places that I had never set foot in during my first five semesters on campus.
But beyond just going new places, I still felt like I needed to do more. With that in mind, I decided to sign up and attend the Notre Dame Encounter No. 105 retreat this past weekend. I will say this: it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. NDE was one of my favorite weekends during my entire three years here at Notre Dame. It wasn't specifically any one activity that we did on the retreat (though I enjoyed everything) that made the weekend and it wasn't just the fact that my small group's theme was based on the movie "Space Jam" (though that certainly helped); it was the people. Having been at Notre Dame, we sometimes forget that what makes this university great is the truly special student body that chose to attend school here. And on an NDE, you are placed in contact with 55 other amazing people, most of whom you have never spoken to before, in a setting where you can really learn their stories. And, to shamelessly steal a phrase from my small group leader, I love to hear other people's stories; something that I had lost sight of during my day-to-day monotony. At one point near the end of the weekend, I was in a group of four people talking: one freshman, one sophomore, one junior and one senior, all in four different majors. We had been complete strangers no more than 36 hours beforehand. In spite of all that, though, we carried on all the way until we could no longer stay awake, and it was at that point, as I headed to bed, that I realized just how many truly amazing people there are here that I had yet to encounter. What if I chose not to sign up for the retreat and we never had the chance to meet?
Amazing personalities are all around you here. You walk by them every day without even giving them a second glance. We all do. Hopefully, though, you can make the most of it, and not let your experience here on campus pass you by without making the most of it. I know I certainly intend to from here on out.
Andy Ziccarelli is a junior majoring in civil engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.