We Are A Nation
She is � in ways perhaps unimaginable by those who�ve never walked her hallowed grounds � Our Mother.
Some may assume her fame to be borne of football glory, her greatness measured merely by championships and trophies, her mystique arising solely from the legend and lore of illustrious heroes past. Some, sensing that there must be more, may invoke her academic prestige or uncommon acclaim. And some � adopting the na�ve premise (or the wishful thought) that she must be like the rest � may choose to blithely call into question her specialness, her inimitability, and even her relevance.
But for those of us who�ve glimpsed the famed Golden Dome gleaming in the midmorning sun, for those who�ve watched the autumnal mist settling across the tranquil waters of St. Mary�s Lake, for those who�ve spent a quiet evening embraced by the candlelit prayers of the Grotto, or simply strolled across the campus and, looking up, caught sight of Our Lady majestically standing atop the dome, surveying her university and all who call it home � for those of us who�ve been so blessed to have experienced these moments, we understand.
These are the sacred moments in which you feel yourself transported, and through which you become inextricably linked with those who�ve come before you, whose own moments of valor and victory have been inspired in and by this place for generations.
How vividly I remember my first glimpse of the Golden Dome as my parents drove me to campus for freshman orientation. We had just turned north onto Notre Dame Avenue, and there it was � stately and serene, set against a clear blue sky, shimmering in the brilliant August sunlight, seeming to grow taller and brighter as we approached.
Two days later, now alone, I took my first unguided tour of the campus. I gazed upon Touchdown Jesus, unaware that the mural�s official name was �The Word of Life.� I walked around the stadium, trying to imagine the cheers of the crowd on a football Saturday when the Irish took the field. I visited the Grotto and watched the steady stream of students whose faith compelled them to come to this sacred place and offer prayers on bended knee. I experience the breathtaking beauty that is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and I pondered the words inscribed above the east door � �God, Country, Notre Dame.�
As I circled the Administration Building (as it was then known), I came upon two priests who were quietly conversing. One of them called me over. �You look lost,� he said with a good-natured laugh. �You must be a freshman!�
�I am,� I confessed. �My parents just left a few minutes ago.�
He extended his hand. �I�m Father Ted,� he said. �This is Father Ned Joyce. Welcome to Notre Dame.�
�Welcome home,� Father Ned added. �Welcome home.�
�Do you have plans for dinner?� Father Ted asked after we had chatted for several minutes.
�No, Sir,� I answered.
�Good,� he replied without hesitation. �Then join us. We�re waiting for someone I�d like you to meet. His name is Emil T. Hofman and he�s the Dean of the Freshman Year of Studies.�
We went to a local restaurant (I�m not sure which one, but it was fairly nice). I do remember that during dinner, Father Hesburgh sat next to me. At one point, he turned to me and said, �So, tell me about your goals while you�re at Notre Dame. What do you want to accomplish during your career here?�
I answered honestly, and, I must admit, in a way that I thought would�ve impressed the University�s President. �I want to make straight A�s and graduate at the top of my class,� I boldly proclaimed.
Father Ted studied my face for a moment, and then leaned closer. �Son,� he said in a gentle voice befitting a man of wisdom, �I�m sure you have the academic credentials to make all A�s and to be one of these super students at Notre Dame. I have no doubt of it. But that would require you to lock yourself in your room and do nothing but study for the next four years. Now some people do that, but I don�t think they should.�
�You don�t?� I asked.
�I don�t,� he responded. �Now, of course I want you to do well academically, but I also want you to promise me that you�ll go out and live the Notre Dame Experience. You�re going to make great friends here � enjoy your time with them. Enjoy the campus. Enjoy all that Notre Dame has to offer. Don�t sacrifice the experience for the grades. This is a special time in your life, and I want you to promise me you�ll soak in everything it means to be a student at the University of Notre Dame.�
Thus was my introduction to Notre Dame.
I would come to learn over time that the experience of which he spoke was indeed made of moments just such as these, each more special than any test score, each more meaningful than a grade point average, each more brilliant than even a dome of gold.
From my window in Alumni Hall, I could see both the Golden Dome and Notre Dame Stadium � one, the iconic symbol of a world-renowned university, and the other, her celebrated field of legends.
But in between the two, I found autumn afternoons and trees ablaze with color. I found guys tossing footballs on the quad, and the band playing the Fight Song as they marched across the campus. I found the calming waters of the lakes, and the profound serenity of the Grotto. I found quiet snowfalls that could mesmerize with their magical beauty, yet could chill a Southern boy like me to the bone.
I found students volunteering their time in the service of those less fortunate, raising money for those in need, and selflessly performing small acts of kindness without the slightest thought of repayment.
I found passion and purpose, I found loyalty and honor, and I found friendships that have endured to this day.
And through it all, I found that the Notre Dame Experience, as Father Hesburgh had described it on my very first day, was more than anyone could ever grasp by simply reading a book, or writing a paper, or even becoming a valedictorian. That experience, that spirit, dwells deep within the hearts of all who�ve lived here, of all who�ve studied here, and of all who�ve come to know and love this place we call Notre Dame.
What some may find most extraordinary is that the Spirit of Notre Dame doesn�t emanate from her championships, as important as they are. In fact, just the opposite is true � the championships of Notre Dame emanate from her spirit. And that spirit is unique. It�s real, it�s palpable, and it�s clean. There�s a freshness about it that couldn�t exist if it weren�t authentic.
There stands, in a niche along the southern face of Alumni Hall, the statue of a student. He wears a cap and gown, and holds a diploma. He�s known simply as �The Graduate.�
I remember my final drive down Notre Dame Avenue only hours after my own graduation. I turned to look out the rear window of my parents� car, and, gazing once more upon the Golden Dome, watched as it reflected the last rays of the afternoon sun and receded into the distance.
In that moment, I finally came to understand the emotions of that carved scholar. Now I, too, was going forth into the world, carrying with me the lessons and the spirit of this place, excited to begin the journey beyond, but quietly wondering what would become of me.
Years later, I�ve come to embrace the wonder as part of the journey, and the journey as part of the destination. And yet something about it always leads me back to Notre Dame.
What I�ve learned to be true is that for all the spectacle and splendor of a football weekend at Notre Dame, she reserves her most treasured gifts for those quiet moments when one strolls across the campus, admiring the freshly fallen snow, breathing in the crisp, clean pine-scented air, listening to her beating heart, warm beneath the mantle that is her embrace.
These are the times when one discovers her truest blessings � the grace that must be sought, the spirit that must be nurtured, and the irresistible beauty that is Our Mother and our home.
And so it is that we willingly defend her honor on Saturdays in the fall when we do strong battle against those who would dare to take that which she has bequeathed to us. We strap on our pads, we don our helmets, and we rise up with explosive force to engage in masculine, titanic struggle for the ultimate victory of the Lady on the Dome.
Victory is a decision. And it is a decision that we make without apology. No matter the foe, no matter the price, we seek victory and nothing less. We shall not be defined by circumstance, and we shall never ask anyone for permission to succeed.
Those who openly pine for Notre Dame�s luster to be tarnished, or who brashly claim that she�d prefer to live in the glory of a bygone era, indict themselves by their very words, for it is they who do not � and perhaps cannot � understand the nature of this place.
While we rightly honor the towering achievements of those who�ve gone before us, let it be known by one and all that we hold forever firm the ideal that our greatest dreams have yet to be dreamed, our greatest works have yet to be done, our greatest heights have yet to be scaled, and our greatest victories have yet to be won.
We, the sons and daughters of Notre Dame, share a common heritage. We speak a common language, are united by a common destiny, and are inspired by a common vision. We are, therefore, a nation � bound together not simply by golden helmets or athletic fame, but more so by the very ideals that set us apart, that define who we are, that enlighten our path and enrich our journey as we navigate the glory and travail of this life.
We are poised at the front line of history, the heroes of the past standing shoulder to shoulder behind us, their mythical deeds echoing through time, supplying us with courage and hope for the future. Now it is our turn, and we are both humbled and honored by the privilege of lifting her banner high for the world to see.
We are a nation triumphant. We are a nation compassionate. We are a nation accomplished, yet forever aspiring. We are a nation sublime, a nation united, and a nation set apart, destined to be loved, to be feared, to be admired, and to be envied, but, above all, destined to prevail.
We are, in the final analysis, a nation of champions, who, with Our Mother atop the dome, stand victorious.
We are Notre Dame.