This week I attended a conference at my alma mater; the University of Notre Dame. The days were busy with leadership sessions, guest speakers, and networking, but there was ample time to walk the campus and experience the sights of times gone by. It is a place where pride, sentiment, and fondness combine to where I am unquestionably drawn to it. In a word, I have a penchant for Notre Dame.
What is immediately apparent about Notre Dame these days is its physical expansion. The entire campus of my undergraduate experience – now thirty years ago – is surrounded by new buildings, longer quads, and grander athletic facilities. As a whole it is breathtakingly impressive, even for those who have visited many times before. But when I cross the proverbial threshold from the new to the old; from the present to the past, to arrive in the sub-campus of my day, there comes a sense of calm and familiarity that can only come from experiences that leave a permanent imprint.
My walking tour took me past my academic and social haunts. I passed several buildings where I experienced the triumphs and tragedies of the classroom. I passed several dorms – including my own – where the memories of friends and roommates and dates and parties came back to me as if yesterday. It was easy to get wrapped up in the blanket of yesteryear.
Students were everywhere during my walk. I was delighted to see some of the same habits and activities. Frisbee on the quad. Boyfriend/girlfriend walking hand-in-hand. Dozens of undergraduates desperate for the spring sunshine relaxing in shorts and t-shirts. In that moment I wanted to be one of them again.
I captured my walk with a lot of photos. Every turn – whether for beauty or nostalgia – had me pausing and clicking. It was as if I was trying to capture the essence of my past and trap it inside of my phone. Which I realized, in hindsight, was simply not possible.
Notre Dame has some very special places. There are two lakes in the middle of campus with quiet walking paths around them. There is the Grotto – perhaps the most special of those places – where one can light a candle and say a prayer in the shadow of Notre Dame’s cathedral: the Basilica of Sacred Heart. And there are dozens of corners where you disappear behind a building or down a walkway, and suddenly realize you are alone in the peace and quiet of the moment.
I walked past one of the lakes for several minutes trying to recapture the moments and voices of my years. I sat at the Grotto trying to summon the spirits of such a significant time in my life. Even at the bookstore – where Notre Dame’s name or logo is imprinted on everything imaginable, I wandered the aisles in search of… in search of… I’m not sure what. Did I really believe I could purchase my memories in a shirt? Or a book? Or a photo?
Thirty years can change a place forever. New buildings, new students, and the personality of a new generation dissolve the images of what once was. And so, as I completed my journey down memory lane, I realized that what I sought, I already had with me. My years at Notre Dame; my experience that was like no other, rests proudly and permanently in my memories. No photograph or keepsake or paragraph will ever do it justice.