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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

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The information your campus tour won’t provide

A glimpse into the life that campus tours can't capture

It’s hard to miss the prospective students milling around campus right now, poking their heads into buildings and staring wide-eyed at the Dome. Soon enough, they’ll be deciding where to spend the next four years of their lives — a decision influenced by scholarship money, some random YouTuber’s “day in the life” or simply, a leap of faith.

As I watch the Notre Dame tour guides lead their groups of students, I can’t help but think about my own expectations heading into college. I recall nodding along in response to statistics about campus clubs and the student-to-faculty ratio, envisioning shared meals with friends after class and pretending to remember the names of every building we walked past, their bricks all blending together in my head. 

Yet after two years here, all this information and imagination now seems entirely insufficient. It’s no fault of our tour guides, who make navigating campus’s narrow sidewalks with 30 people — while walking backward — look easy. It just begs the question: can a 30-minute rehearsed tour truly convey the essence of college life? 

The answer, simply, is no.

As decisions loom ahead, allow me to offer a humble attempt to shed light on what might be missing on your campus tour.

The tour guides won’t describe the equal parts excitement and anxiety you’ll feel on move-in day. The relief you’ll feel when a stranger, now roommate, instantly wraps you in a hug. The awkwardness of adjusting to each other’s routines — trying to breathe as quietly as possible that first night of sleep so you don’t wake them up.

They won’t tell you that, when anything seems possible, it feels like you need to do everything. How you’ll feel the overwhelming pull to explore different clubs and courses — your hands eager to mold your future. Sitting next to someone random in your economics class and trying out the feeling of an ND intro on your tongue. And again. And again.

They won’t tell you about the anticipation of your first football game. A palpable giddiness in the air that makes the whole production feel monumental, almost sacrosanct. The sounds of hundreds of feet entering the stadium. The ensuing defeat by Marshall that should feel crushing, but instead seems like a small price to pay for four more years of gamedays. The shamrock-shaped sunburn on your friend’s cheek. 

They won’t tell you that once the initial shininess wears off, college turns out to be closer to real life than you expected. That despite your best efforts, you will cast your net wide and overestimate its strength, spread yourself a little too thin and start counting down the days until fall break. How the first-year, existential drama can feel so urgent, so real: the tear-filled grotto visit after your first final, the quiet sadness of a failed situationship and the unsettling realization that maybe you don’t actually know what you’re doing. 

They won’t tell you that it’s all part of the process — one that, you’ll learn, never ends. How constantly shedding parts of your identity, as you try on different versions of yourself is exactly what you should be doing, even if it sucks. That those countless academic advising meetings and the stubborn permacloud and even the awkward O’Neill dorm parties (I know, I’m sorry) are important, even necessary.

They won’t tell you about the moments of clarity that make you realize you’re in the right place. The prayer offering for “the loneliest kid on campus” at Milkshake Mass, the trip to Chicago with friends on Easter weekend, the book gifted to you by a kind professor you never even had and the person playing “Hillside Boys” next to you in the shower.

They won’t tell you that a person can feel like home. That, without realizing it, the random roommate you didn’t know eight months ago has become the sister you never had. How the girls on the floor below you would make you laugh until you cry and force you to go rock climbing and, suddenly, it’s all okay.

They won’t tell you that you’ll become comfortable with the unknown and learn to treat it as a familiar friend. The relief you’ll feel digging through your desk drawer and finally throwing away all those clubs’ QR codes, firms’ flyers and information cards. That you can be sad to leave and ready to go home at the same time. 

They won’t tell you that each year only gets better. How, next year, you’ll savor the warmth this time, finally hammock by the lake, get to the semifinals of intramural flag football and relish the coziness of South Dining Hall. Meet someone whose favorite song is “Night Changes” and add it to your playlist. Stumble into new friendships that make you feel like anything is possible again. And this time you can do it, together.

No matter what future we imagine for ourselves, it exists only in our minds. Life has a way of constantly surprising us with reality. 

So, you may miss a lot of information on your campus tour. And honestly, thank God for that — now you get to find out for yourself.

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