College Bound: Notre Dame Traditions

Author: Emily LaPlaca


College Bound is the Notre Dame admissions podcast. Episode 5: Lore & Traditions provides a sneak peek into a few of our many beloved traditions.


Read the previous blog posts:

  1. Application Review and Deadlines
  2. Academic Criteria for Admission
  3. Activities and Recommendations on Your Application
  4. Financial Aid and Merit Aid


After focusing on the admissions and application process for the past few weeks, we now shift focus to our Notre Dame community, environment, and resources, beginning with this episode on Notre Dame’s campus traditions. In the Office of Admissions, we are often asked about popular traditions in our community, which is one of my favorite questions to answer. As an alumna of Notre Dame as well as someone who spends each day sharing information about our University to students and families, it never ceases to put a smile on my face when I recall fun traditions and quirky “rules” that are embedded in the fabric of the Notre Dame student experience. 



Maria Finan and Matt Greene, your podcast co-hosts, share a variety of Notre Dame’s athletic and academic traditions. Matt shares the origin of our nickname and University mascot, The Fighting Irish, and Maria shares the legendary story of the Gipper.  

We also share a special tradition of repurposing the gold leaf that tops our iconic landmark, the Golden Dome. Our Main Building on campus, most commonly referred to as the Golden Dome, is gilded with 23.9 karat gold leaf, which must be regilded periodically. When regilding the surface of the Dome, the leftover gold leaf is used in both the paint on our football helmets and on our graduation diplomas. Students literally leave Notre Dame with a small piece of campus with them always.

While each dorm has its own unique traditions and I could fill up an entire book with stories of Notre Dame lore, I will highlight just a few more of my personal favorites. One of these traditions involves the first good snowfall of the year. As soon as we get our first big snowfall of the year and the snow sticks to the ground, there is a palpable buzz on campus as students prepare for a campus-wide snowball fight out on South Quad that evening. As a Notre Dame student raised in Louisiana, my first year on campus was my first real experience with winter weather—a common sentiment among our students from warmer climates. This annual snowball fight was a personal favorite of mine and continues to be a favorite among our student body.

Another fun tradition involves a different sort of white ball—a marshmallow (or more accurately, many marshmallows). During the last home football game of the year, it is customary for seniors to sneak a bag of marshmallows into the football stadium to throw throughout the student section during the game. If you’re lucky (or unlucky) like me, this game might actually coincide with a snowfall, which makes it more difficult to distinguish the flying marshmallows from the falling snow. A bit sticky, but a fun tradition nonetheless.


So what are these quirky “rules”?

Among other Notre Dame traditions are certain rules and superstitions that are well-known to our students. One such rule brings us back to our Main Building, or the Golden Dome. While prospective students, alumni, and visitors to campus are able to access our Main Building through the front steps, current undergraduate students know better than to walk up this staircase. Legend has it that students who walk on the front steps of the Dome will not be able to graduate on time. Because of this, graduating from Notre Dame becomes more than just a tremendous accomplishment—it also marks the first time that students can walk up the front steps!

After years of walking past the Main Building or entering the Dome through alternative entrances, students celebrate their newfound freedom of entry by having a graduation-week celebration on the front steps. It comes as no surprise, then, that students and families will line up on graduation day for their much-awaited photo on the front steps, which I’ve included here from my own graduation day.

Graduation Steps 2014

Other rules and superstitions include not being allowed to walk on the grass on God Quad (the quad that includes our Main Building and Basilica of the Sacred Heart) and that a kiss with a significant other under the archway of Lyons Hall could lead to a wedding proposal prior to graduation. However, even the most diehard rule-followers allow for some exceptions. On home football weeks, we turn a blind eye to those who walk on the God Quad grass, without the typical consequence of failing your next Theology exam! 


Your Personal Traditions

For current high school seniors, you will have the opportunity this year to share a personal tradition that is important to you through the Notre Dame Writing Supplement. When applying to Notre Dame, we require applicants to submit short essay responses to a set of writing prompts, in addition to the Common Application or Coalition Application essay. These short essay questions change from year to year, but this year’s options include an opportunity to discuss a favorite tradition from your life that has impacted who you are today. We love to share our Notre Dame traditions with you, and we look forward to hearing about your traditions as well!

Emily LaPlaca is an assistant director with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. She is the regional counselor for the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and parts of Virginia. Read Emily's profile.