What the First-Year Student-Athlete Orientation Meant to a Non-Athletic Junior

Anna Gonzalez ‘16 (@NDBlogGonzo)



The first-year student-athletes sing the Alma Mater together for the first time. Photo cred: @NotreDameSWD 

I’m not a student-athlete and I’ve never claimed to know what it’s like to be one. I’ll never know what it’s like to wake up at 5 AM to go to practice or weightlifting. I’ve never had to make a class schedule work around a practice schedule. When I study, it’s when I want to study, not just when I must because there’s no other available time in the day. I’ll never know what it’s like to have to travel around the country every other weekend and balance schoolwork at the same time. I’ll never know how it feels to win a National Championship just to have final exams the next day. And I’ll never know how it feels to have the pressure to perform well in both Division 1 athletics and at a Top-20 University.

Even though I don’t know what it’s like, I’m around student-athletes all the time. They live in my dorm, they’re in my classes, I see them in the dining halls, and I work with them. Most of them go unnoticed: they seem like your average student. Their ability to seem ordinary is what’s so extraordinary. Despite grueling schedules and countless hours spent working on either their sport or their studies, the student-athletes at Notre Dame are always students first.

I want to tell you about a senior I knew last year. Kelly Ryan was on the swim team, majoring in Spanish and Pre-Professional studies, and she was an alto with me in an A Cappella group on campus called Halftime. Kelly was a great person for me to get to know because (other than the fact that she’s insanely friendly and hilarious) anytime I felt stressed or busy, I remembered that she was in the midst of a grueling swim season, finishing up an intensive area of study, and was busy trying to figure out what to do after graduation all at the same time. And yet, she rarely missed a rehearsal. Knowing Kelly, she probably would shrug off all this and say, “It wasn’t that bad,” but in the eyes of someone who wasn’t even half as busy but felt twice as stressed, it was amazing how she managed everything. And the crazy thing is, she seemed to enjoy every little bit of it. (Also, if you’re somehow reading this, Kel, hi! Don’t hate me for this…)

Student-Welfare and Development asked me to film their 2014 First Year Orientation, and I said yes because I saw it as an opportunity to peek into the very beginning of an experience I’ll never have but one that surrounds me on a daily basis. I’m glad I did. Because I have friends who are athletes and I work in the athletic department, I respect what every student-athlete does on a daily basis, and especially here at Notre Dame because this school is tough. That’s what every speaker at the Orientation said. Fr. Pete McCormack, the former rector of Keough Hall and current chaplain for men’s basketball, encouraged the freshman to get involved in dorm life—take time to get to know your neighbors and your rector. “You get out what you put in,” he explained. If you only spend time in your dorm sleeping, that’s all your dorm will be: a room with a bed. It won’t be home. But if you spend time getting to know the other people living with you, it becomes a safe-haven, a place to escape without actually leaving.

Current student-athletes encouraged freshmen to get involved outside of their sport and schoolwork. Corey Robinson, a sophomore on the football team, got to know members of his dorm, and through it, he became a member of Student Government. Corey explained that he sees that students who aren’t athletes can sometimes be just as busy or stressed as anyone else, and he’s making strides to unite the student body and the student-athlete body. Corey also explained that he has a passion for art, and he pursues that passion on his own time. Katherine McManus, a junior on women’s lacrosse, spends time off campus with her “boyfriend,” 6-year-old Bobby, a pediatric oncology patient here in South Bend. Katherine spends time with Bobby at the hospital, reading to him, talking to him, and just being a friend. With Katherine, Bobby had the chance to attend lacrosse games and even participate in team events. Max Lachowecki, a senior on the men’s soccer team, had a YouTube series with a teammate and got to attend the ESPYS. Now, after finishing a degree in business marketing, he is starting over to chase his dream of working in the entertainment industry by adding a second major in film, television, and theater. These three student-athletes, as well as hundreds of others, have made sure to get the full Notre Dame Experience in their four short years here, no matter how busy they were.

Finally, Jack Swarbrick closed the morning with a speech about how to find success. Every single student, athlete and non-athlete alike, had the opportunity to choose an easier path, but instead we chose a school that sets the bar high. He said that the most successful teams are the ones that “leave the locker room in groups of 6 or 7,” and not just groups of 1 or 2. He told the parents that they should be proud of their children for choosing the challenging path, and he told the students to get ready for what may be the most difficult, but also most rewarding, four years of their lives.

The whole point of the orientation session was to inform the students who are just on their first weekend here to take advantage of the four years ahead of them, and from the view of a non-athlete, it’s a point that isn’t just relevant to athletes. It’s relevant to every student that lives, works, and studies on the Notre Dame campus. Get involved, get to know as many people as you can, pursue your passions, take advantage of the resources you’re given, and every once in a while, take a minute to appreciate where you are and how far you’ve already come.

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