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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
The Observer

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Late nights in Hesburgh Library

A central experience of the Arts and Letters student

There are few experiences that hone a person's concentration and productivity more than a late night in Hesburgh Library. 

Most Notre Dame students have likely been in this scenario. It’s 8:30 p.m., you’ve just finished eating dinner with your friends in the dining hall and are now left to sit with the daunting reality that you have a 12 page paper due the next morning which you have hardly started. You’ve had weeks to do this paper but, inevitably, it has come down to the last night.

A deluge of emotions spring forth from this scenario. Regret, fear, anxiety and perhaps a sense of hopelessness are all common. All we want in this moment is for the assignment to disappear and to be able to return to our normal lives and spend time with our friends.

But necessity calls. The essay must be written. The work must be done. 

I pack my bag and make the dreaded trek to the library. From afar, despite the iconic “Touchdown Jesus” mural, the building seems foreboding. Its brutalist architecture looms above campus, daring all who might take up the gauntlet to enter.

Reluctantly, I make my way through the door and up to a desk on the 11th floor. As I look out the window, the sun makes its way below the horizon and the lights begin to turn on around campus. I crack open my laptop and begin the work. 

The words begin to spring forth, slowly and painfully at first, but faster and more smoothly as I go. I grow in confidence, but moments of doubt still come into my mind. At some points, it seems as though finishing the essay is simply not possible. Perhaps school is simply not for me and I should instead herd cattle on a farm in Ireland for the rest of my life.

But then I am called back to reality and continue writing again. The essay must be written. The work must be done.

As I work and struggle through the essay, the lights on campus flicker off, one by one. 

The ancient books that surround me are now my only company. For decades they have sat there, watching countless other students do the same thing as me. 

At last the essay is done. I shut the laptop, standing up with a feeling of triumph. I stagger to the elevator and then out into the early morning.

Alone, I walk back to the dorm. The lights are almost all out now and the campus is quiet. The night cloaks the gothic buildings and the silent statues. A different world exists in this silent hour.

The new day will rise soon with its hope and its disappointment, its victory and its defeat, its joy and its bitterness. But as I walk back from Hesburgh, all of that is far away. I feel a sense of satisfaction and gratitude. The work has been done. 

Yes, I probably should write my essays before the night they are due. But among the bookshelves, amidst the chaos, I find something that pushes me to dig deeper within me, to see the work to its conclusion. Ultimately, those late nights in Hesburgh are necessary once in a while. 

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