It’s not fair. No, it’s worse than unfair, it’s a trick question, one that every sleep-deprived high school student mulls over for hours and dwells on across innumerable revisions. It’s like the fountain of youth, or perhaps a more fitting analogy, the city of gold: a riddle that many hope to answer but for which no answer will suffice. This modern myth, our college’s present-day puzzle is perhaps most succinctly summarized by three letters, one question: YND, Why Notre Dame?
Yes, that one. The age-old extraordinarily frustrating yet immeasurably essential quandary that twists and pries the minds it one day seeks to educate. Year after year this same premise is disguised by the phrasing of modern language, but year after year applicants eventually reach the core query calling into question their love for the University of Our Lady. This year was no exception.
So, to the thousands of high schoolers who were admitted this year, it’s time we too are subjected to the same sentence we served our future students. You all have endured this question before and now it’s our turn to do the same: YND? Why should you choose to attend Notre Dame?
Would, perhaps, the easiest answer be the academics? The intellectual rigor of a top-20 university paired with the resources to not only float, but swim? The seemingly unending potential for learning and an uncapped capacity for expanding both the breadth and depth of one’s understanding? The professors and students alike ready to assist at a moment’s notice? That indescribable yet equally overpowering safety that feeds off of ubiquitous collaboration at the expense of comminatory competition?
Or, is the best reason our University’s unceasing and evermore potent devotion to its faith? The thirty-second walk from your bed to a chapel, or the bells of the Basilica breaking the silence of a winter morn? The Grotto walks with friends every Sunday after sunset? Those “peace be with you’s” that follow the unparalleled echoes of singing The Lord’s Prayer in mass? The preference to prioritize prayer before every passing pursuit?
Could it be, dare I ask, the football? The 6:00 a.m. wake-up’s that startle first-year friends into consciousness thanks to the wandering hand of a rogue senior who “stumbled” into the fire alarm? The scent of fresh cut grass and steaks at sunrise wafting through the South Quad skies? The cars spread wide and flags pitched high as Stadium Lot fills to the brim with fans, friends, and families alike? The magic that comes with the sound of her name as the Irish flood the quads of old Notre Dame?
Or, might your devotion lie in the tradition that dwells in every yellow brick from Carroll to Corbett? Is it the tiptoeing around God Quad grass or sneaking in the Main Building without touching foot on the steps? The greatest of university fight songs or the loudest of Zahm-defaming chants? Those towering tiles of Touchdown Jesus opposite the timeless tunnel of Notre Dame Stadium? The odds are great or small and the wins over all?
Mustn’t the greatest lure to the lore of the Irish be its resounding community, the famed “Notre Dame Family”? What more could any student want than LHOP by fall and the Fisher Regatta by spring? Or returning soaking wet from the first snowball fight on South Quad, reminiscing on sandy scrapes from volleyball by the lake? The dining hall dates interrupted by thunderous applause as a cup falls flat to the floor? The late nights laughing in Hesburgh Library as studies give way to smiles? A family that both bleeds gold and blue and stays tender, strong, and true?
Or maybe, just maybe, could it be the sum of its parts that’s greater than any one alone? The academics, the faith, the football, the tradition, the family - all of it that, together, work in unison to develop and define the true identity of Our Lady’s University? Is it possible to reckon that a mere college, some plot of land with a few bricks meshed together, could be all of this and so much more?
The eloquent words of former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz perhaps capture the essence of our seemingly complex conundrum best, saying, “To those who know Notre Dame, no explanation is necessary. To those who do not, no explanation will suffice.”
So, when all is said and less is done the question still remains: “Why Notre Dame?” And to that I say, there’s only one way to find out.