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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

Why we stay

I’m sitting in one of the Adirondack chairs on Fieldhouse Mall, watching seas of accepted students wearing Notre Dame drawstring backpacks on their tours. They’re walking past landmarks like LaFun and Stonehenge, places that are now just pitstops on a tour, but might very well become their stomping grounds in only a short time. 

I love watching them gaze around the quad, wide eyes fixed on current students like me … girls still in their pajamas at 2 p.m., writing Observer articles just for them. 

As a Gateway student last year on a guaranteed transfer track from Holy Cross College to Notre Dame, my entire life revolved around getting in. I remember walking past the golden dome, tears stinging my eyes, just praying I’d make it here. I dreamt in Notre Dame acceptance confetti and Grotto candles … I ran to the “Rudy” soundtrack and studied till I couldn’t feel my fingers.  

I’ll never forget the day I got in (officially). I signed into my ND admissions portal from the front yard of my parents’ Virginia home, and I took a deep breath as I opened the decision: Accepted.

So I sobbed for a while and texted Michael Hines to let him know. He responded in all caps, “WELCOME HOME!” which sent chills down my spine and made my cry harder — because until that point, Notre Dame hadn’t been a home for me. It’d been a dream, something to aspire to. And that day, for the first time, I knew it finally always belonged to me. 

Just a few months later, my feelings were very different. Having achieved my goal, I was in a constant state of “now what?” And somewhere in that pool of “now what?” (coupled with some mononucleosis-fueled angst), I found my excitement replaced with dissatisfaction and even anger. 

I was angry that everyone was signing leases for senior year when I still had no idea who I wanted to live with. I was angry that after we lost (badly) to Marshall University, students were quick to attack Marshall’s acceptance rate and average ACT score but slow to accept defeat. I was angry that too often people would question why I was an English major, under the assumption that I wouldn’t have job security post-grad. I was angry that Notre Dame was closer to real life than I’d imagined. In other words, Notre Dame didn’t exist in that dream space it used to, that dream place full of beer and endless kindness and bagpipes (soooo many bagpipes). 

So in October, I told my friend I wanted to transfer. 

We talked about it briefly one night, and then never again. 

And while I never wound up applying to transfer anywhere, I remember feeling so ashamed that I even had that passing thought. I knew I was supposed to love Notre Dame: I was supposed to love the school spirit and those beautiful, drunken tailgates and the community that transcends time and place, but I was disappointed in so much. I was disappointed in the student body, which sometimes felt pretentious and homogenous, the academics, which sometimes felt overhyped and the culture that sometimes told me I wasn’t good enough. I was certifiably: Falling out of Love with Notre Dame™.

But then something changed. 

I started asking my friends some questions — why they came here and why they stay here — and I realized sometimes we get too comfortable asking people “why did you come to Notre Dame?” when really we should be asking “why do you stay at Notre Dame?”

Because this … is a choice. Every day we attend classes and go to events and eat and sleep and study on this campus, we are choosing to stay. We are saying “yes” to the Notre Dame experience and “no” to everything else. We are opting in. 

So, you might ask me: Kate Casper, why do you stay?

And I’ll tell you, I stay because there is no place like Notre Dame, and I really really need Notre Dame. 

I need study sessions that are followed with trips to the Grotto. I need old white men to hand me drinks before football games and talk to me about the “good old days in Dillon Hall.” I need advocates and alumni who tell me: English majors can do anything. I need friends like Clare and Viz and Aedan and my Gateway family and the BP girls who are always game for a 30-minute weekend debrief (preferably on a whiteboard). I need Tyrone to grin at me and say, “Good morning” when it’s 2 a.m. and I’m finally leaving LaFun. I need Johannes Gorranson to push me and make me a better poet. I need formals in Corbett Hall with a date named Quack who guesses my phone password using only “magic.”

Really, I need all of this. I need the bitter cold in my parka just as much as I need those Indiana summer days at the beginning of each year when North and South Quad come alive with students playing spikeball and sprawling out in the grass on picnic blankets. I need mac ‘n’ cheese from Yaz’s and lake walks and runs around Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College and Holy Cross. I need the good times and the bad. I need the nights I dance till my legs give out just as much as the nights I feel like the loneliest girl on this campus … because sometimes, that happens too. 

This is life — there will be ups and downs, but I can’t think of a better place to spend my downs than Notre Dame. That’s why I stay.

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.