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Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024
The Observer

All roads lead to Notre Dame

It was a sight that was hard to forget as I made the turn from East Angela Boulevard onto Notre Dame Avenue for the first time. It was so much more than the view. As I lay there in the back seat, wedged between the mounds of snacks and clothes, I stood on the precipice of a new chapter in my life.  

Peering through the gap between the front seats of the van, I gazed upon the tree-lined corridor welcoming me to the University of Notre Dame. The trees seemed to stand guard for the sparkling golden prize that lay at the end of the road, especially glittering in the late August sun. At this moment of uncertainty in my life at the start of my first year in college and the trees beckoning me forward, I knew there was only one place to go.  

I know that I am far from unique in this experience, but the feeling has only gotten more breathtaking. It is this iconic moment of turning down Notre Dame Avenue and having the golden dome of the Main Building peaking through the trees that has become a staple of my trips to and from Notre Dame. As joyful as it is to see the Dome no matter where you are, there is a unique feeling of “domesickness” that seeps into your heart when you leave Notre Dame. The feeling of being reunited with the dome is powerful enough to make any stoic Domer crack a smile.   

The emotions that we all feel when we turn down the sacred stretch of cement are not accidental, but rather deliberately planned by the university. The 2017 update of the Campus Plan, outlines the seven guiding tenets for campus planning, intended to orient the future development of the University. The sixth of these tenets is “the ceremonial focus of Notre Dame Avenue and other approaches to campus.”  

In the plan, the University administration acknowledges the historical significance of this grand entrance to campus and states that Notre Dame Avenue will always be the “ceremonial approach to the campus with an unequivocal sense of arrival.”

As a sophomore, the conclusion of this academic year will mark the halfway point of my career at Notre Dame. Instead of engaging in the now ritualistic turn on Notre Dame Avenue, this coming fall semester I will spend studying in Copenhagen, Denmark. This opportunity, although likely life-changing, has made the end of this semester bittersweet as I have come to reflect on how special our home really is.      

The feeling is especially crushing whenever I pass the separated gates to the student section and think to myself the next time I enter that building will be for my senior year. However, I cannot begin to imagine how those who are about to graduate in the coming weeks from Notre Dame feel.  

While I am thrilled to go abroad, I know some small part of me will miss the campus that has been my home for the last two years. I may not be constantly checking the 24 hour feed of the Dome camera, but I will miss the magic of this place. As many seniors have, I too have thought about what I will miss about these hallowed grounds where I have grown.

I cannot imagine not gazing upon the trees of God Quad when the late October football game days combine perfect sweater weather with the fervor of school spirit. The trees lit up like fire provide a perfect backdrop to everything there is to love about Notre Dame. Those same trees, although barren, will carry the first icicles of winter as students build snow Leprechuans in front of the Main Building.  

I will miss the beauty of Notre Dame Avenue and how every bike ride back from Eddy’s Street necessitates a hands-off-the-handlebars coming-of-age moment.  Riding down the same road that called me home on that sweltering August day, the sunsets are otherworldly.  When the light peaks through the round windows of the dome, the colors contrast and show the that beauty of the dome is only an accent to the natural beauty of this place.  

Certainly, I will miss the bells of the Basilica at their 10 p.m. rendition of the Alma Mater and the echoes of South Dining Hall’s dinner rush.

Notre Dame graduates throughout history have yearned for the sacred grounds of Notre Dame. Take for instance, Tom Dooley ‘48 as he wrote from his hospital bed in Hong Kong shortly before he died: “That Grotto is the rock to which my life is anchored. Do the students ever appreciate what they have, while they have it? I know I never did.” That same grotto now bears a statue and plaque in his honor.     

In my heart, I will ache for a place that has been there for me through the heartbreak and triumphs of the last few years with unwavering constancy. Not only the people of this University but the traditions and landmarks that weather the seasons and remind me to stay rooted in the ideals that have shaped me. 

All the while, my mind will linger on the place that has challenged me to change the world for the better. At the Founder’s Monument, where the men and women of Notre Dame can be reminded of Fr. Sorin’s vision of being a force for good, time will go on without me. The leaves will fall and the lake will freeze. Regardless, the bronze plaque looking over that sacred spot will be there after I return, whenever I need it, just as it always has been.       

In all of my travels, although they are few, I have never found a place quite like Notre Dame. The golden leaf that tops the dome at the end of Notre Dame Avenue is the same that is used to stamp every diploma. Meaning, after graduation, you may leave Notre Dame, but Notre Dame will never leave you. The feeling and family that is the University of Notre Dame is one that will follow you for the rest of your life.          

As many count down their final days at this University and prepare for the next chapter in their lives, even if it is just a semester abroad, the unique character of this University cannot be forgotten. Just as we all drove down Notre Dame Avenue for the first time gazing and wondering what awaits us at our new home, so too must we watch the Dome fade in the distance behind us as we drive away.    

Jack Sirianni is a sophomore studying political science, journalism and public policy. He is a proud Michigander who appreciates jamming to Pete Seeger, scouring eBay for vintage Notre Dame paraphernalia and collecting stickers from everywhere he goes. On campus, Jack can often be seen by the Founder’s Monument or in the line for Southwest Salad. For your favorite tidbits of knowledge or any other musings, his inbox is always open at jsirian2@nd.edu.

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