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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

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Home is where the heart is

I’m not a person who gets homesick easily. Since arriving in South Bend four years ago, I can tell you I’ve absolutely missed my family, but I don’t need to be physically present to still feel at home. Family visits for football games and trips home for the holidays always cured any tinge of homesickness that I would start to feel. Just a couple of days with them made me feel prepared to take on new challenges away from the comforts of my little home in Pittsburgh.

The thing is, I was always ready to leave the nest and venture out into the world. That was my goal in high school — find a college far enough away to provide some independence and room for personal growth, but still close enough to Pittsburgh so that I knew I could always go home when I needed to. About a six-hour drive from home, Notre Dame provided the best of both worlds. I enrolled here believing it would be the perfect place for me. My four years on campus have proven my beliefs to be correct. 

I remember move-in day, four years ago, like it was yesterday, a feeling I imagine many of my peers share. It was a classic Hebda family scramble. My mom and I packed too much stuff, my dad had to carry all of it upstairs, and we spent hours deciding the perfect room arrangement in my tiny double in 80 degree heat. It was a really fun time (not). As soon as it was time for my parents to go, my emotions bubbled over. When I realized that I wouldn’t be able to see them — the people who gave me everything — when I woke up each morning, my feelings hit me like a freight train. They would be a phone call away, yes, but we were still hours apart. It didn’t matter that we’d prepared all summer for the move — it was still a poignant realization. College was my opportunity to grow up and learn how to meet new people and make a life for myself there. It was my chance to learn how to balance being independent with maintaining connections to the most important people in my life. But such a big change was still daunting.

The Notre Dame experience is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t gone here. It’s different for everyone, but what holds universally true is that it's so much more than academics and football. For me, it’s lake walks and stargazing with Justin and it’s Cafe J runs with Andrew. It’s sleepovers on Brooke, Brigit and Helen’s futon in Breen-Phillips Hall and Haley’s cooking and cocktail making. It's waiting in the CJ’s line with Cate, who insists the party is really in the line. My Notre Dame experience is spending time with Aunt Patty and Uncle Tom and visits from Jake and Will, where I get to show them what my little part of the world is like. It’s hours spent in Gym 1 of the JACC, Saturdays on the sidelines with my teammates, and Sunday afternoons at the Observer office paired with all those late nights. It’s everything in between those memories too, all the moments of shared laughter and joy that I may not remember quite as vividly, but of which I know still made my experience what it turned out to be. It’s all about the moments when I realized my friends are part of my family — the moments when I realized I have a home with them now too.

These last four years have often been difficult. School has been filled with fun moments, but I’ve also had my share of stress and uncertainty. Even so, these years have been nothing short of perfect. They say that the people make the place, and I wholeheartedly agree. I found my best friends here at Notre Dame, and thanks to them, I’ve been able to discover new homes, embrace fresh experiences and continue to grow as an individual. This university has opened countless doors for me, but none more important than the opportunity to join a new family.

For the first time in a long time, I must admit I feel a bit homesick. Graduation weekend marks the end of a sixteen year academic journey. I am on the precipice of yet another big change, and once again I must leave my family, this time here at Notre Dame. The world I’ve been privileged enough to create here in South Bend is nearly over. That is a bittersweet yet inspirational reality, a reality of growth and change, a time to find new families. Thinking of leaving a place as special as Notre Dame makes me feel prematurely homesick. What I’ve realized, though, is that my family here on campus is just like my family at home. They are the people who are always one phone call away. They are the people who I can spend just a few days with to cure any homesickness I feel. They will always be there. So, wherever we are, I know that I’ll always be able to return to the people that Notre Dame has given me, and I’ll be home.

Hannah is graduating with a degree in economics and minors in real estate and poverty studies. You can contact her at hannahhebda@gmail.com.

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