This will be my last post in this series—I was aiming to write every day in June, and I managed to do so! I’ll keep posting periodically but not every day.
There are certain places that contain so many memories that they leap out from every corner whenever you visit. Notre Dame became one of my favorite places the very first time I visited, but it has become even more special to me now that I have built so many memories there. It will always be home to me.
I am fascinated by how some ordinary places seem to carry an extra significance in my life. At my high school, there was a practice field just beside the football stadium. My eighth grade graduation took place under a giant tent on that field, and there I gave a speech to my classmates about what we would most remember in the years to come. A few months later, I stood on that same field for my first day of band camp and waited, in utter misery, for the day to be over—I couldn’t march a single step in time, and I could feel my poor Irish skin, which was used to staying inside and reading instead of traipsing around a football field, burning in the heat of the late August sun. A few grueling months later, still marching on that field, I found myself finally getting it, finally learning proper technique and discipline—finally concentrating on performing well instead of letting my mind wander off, and feeling a sense of exhilaration from being so fully present in the moment. Two years later, I won the first of many march-offs on that practice field. I passed through that field almost every day walking between classes, often chatting with friends along the way. I frequently went out there for gym class (I remember a lackluster attempt at shot put). As a senior, I lined up my new freshman marchers out there and taught them how to roll step, remembering all too well what it was like to be in their shoes. And at the end of my senior year, the tent went up again, and I walked through in a graduation robe one more time. I stood in the same place I’d been four years earlier, and yet so many things had been sandwiched in between those two moments that the place itself was transformed for me. It wasn’t just a tent anymore. It was where I’d eaten pudding with my friends one Saturday afternoon, where I’d fallen over laughing at inside jokes, where my beaten-up old piccolo had fallen to pieces one day in the dirt, where I learned to rotate a marching triangle; it was where I learned discipline and commitment, where I would run to my sets at each practice. I had lived so much in that place, and it had been so many different things to me.
To think that all these things happened on the exact same patch of ground was mind-boggling. And that was just high school. At Notre Dame, so many milestones and ordinary moments of my life are embedded in every corner; every stone and blade of grass has meaning for me. And they have carried meaning for so many generations before me as well, such a long history of which I am only but a very small part.
If there is a Notre Dame equivalent to my high school practice field, it is Bond Hall. Bond Hall is not only the architecture building, where I pulled far too many all-nighters and which became a second home to me, but also the spot where the marching band played the Concert on the Steps. It was where my worlds intersected. The stairs on which I usually ate my lunch were, on football Saturdays, where I stood to look out upon cheering crowds of hundreds of people and play the Victory March—just as, when I was in high school, the dirt where I marched in circles and goofed off with my friends was sometimes filled with the pomp and circumstance of a graduation ceremony. And in fact, I did graduate on the steps of Bond Hall, too—that’s where our architecture ceremony took place, where I received my diploma.
I’ve visited the Grotto more times than I can count, bringing different prayers and petitions every time (and sometimes the same old petitions). Each time, I am slightly different. I have changed, in ways both perceptible and imperceptible, from the high schooler who knelt and lit a candle there eleven summers ago, from the twenty-one-year-old passing through at 4am on the way home from studio, and from the twenty-three-year-old who stopped by to say a prayer before her commencement ceremony.
I like visiting Notre Dame to remember who I’ve been, and to compare that to who I am and who I hope to become. I hope I can retain the core of who I was when I first arrived there while still growing and changing, weaving new memories among the ones that came before. I hope to live fully wherever I am, to have layers of memories in each place I live, as evidence that I lived and dreamed and grew there.