My Reilly Experience | Erin Thomassen '17


It was spring of junior year, and letters were flooding in from all corners of the country. I, like my obsessive academic peers, had applied to way too many schools and was overwhelmed with the number of possibilities. My lists of pros and cons were out of control. I could only stalk the schools’ websites so many times. 

Then I received a letter from the University of Notre Dame inviting me to Reilly weekend. At the time, Notre Dame wasn’t at the top of my list, but how could I turn down a free trip to spend a weekend at college?

As soon as I got off the plane, Notre Dame upperclassmen shepherded me into a clump of other backpack-bearing, pillow-pet carrying high school seniors. Let the socializing begin.

Normally, I wasn’t the biggest fan of small talk. Who got into a Twitter fight with whom? What did Kim Kardashian wear? I couldn’t care less.

But this socializing wasn’t trivial and shallow. These kids were intelligent and clearly accomplished, but not conceited or overly academic. Kate was a Shakespeare enthusiast who set her sights on engineering. We bonded over bellowing out “So Much Better” from Legally Blonde. Jen was a gluten-free premed. We bonded over tracking down salad on pizza night. John was a music fanatic interested in literature and “adventuring.” We bonded over “adventuring” later, when we pulled an all-nighter walking around the lakes and laughing until our stomachs hurt in Reckers, one of the campus cafés.

The planned events of Reilly weekend were fabulous. I sat in on and participated in college classes for the first time. I romped around campus with a group of Reilly students on a photo scavenger hunt. I ate every bite of the raspberry cheesecake during dinner in the press box of the football stadium.

Yet the best part of Reilly was not what I did, but whom I met. Every school on my list was an impressive academic institution with resources galore. Notre Dame stood out because it attracted students with soul.


The most moving part of the weekend was our group trip to the Grotto. I was not Catholic, but when I lit a candle in the stone cave, I felt peaceful. I felt alive. It reminded me that my education and entire life was about something greater than myself. It showed me that at Notre Dame, I would meditate on great questions of life. Why am I here? How can I best love others? What is the purpose of my education?

I have spent two and a half years at the University of Notre Dame, and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. I have learned to compute eigenvectors, starred in a French play, and written more than 20 articles for the school newspaper. More importantly, and with much more difficulty, I have learned how to care for my friends and ask forgiveness when I fail to do so.

I have learned to balance academics with physical and spiritual health, taking study breaks to run outside and wonder at the gift of life. Sometimes I jam out to Hamilton and wonder at the gift of Lin-Manuel Miranda instead.

As a senior in high school, I never would have predicted that I would end up at the University of Notre Dame. Then Reilly happened.

Warning: once you arrive at Notre Dame, you may never want to leave (especially if your flight out is at 5 AM ;)).