Send three volleys of cheers on high for our Seniors! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hooray! As final exams end today, so begins your last week at Notre Dame. Be proud. Be gracious. Be generous. Be humble. But above all, be happy! For you have achieved something great. And you have achieved it together. When you arrived here as a herd of freshmen in 2009, did you think that in your Senior year you would see your classmates lead your football team to an undefeated season and a #1 ranking? Probably not. And so you have learned something – you have learned to believe. You see, we use football not just as a diversion, we use it as a teaching device. That’s the only way to be #1 on the field and #1 where we are now…graduation.
What, then, did you learn on the field and in the stands over the past four years? You learned that the only way to achieve victory is through very hard work, every single time. You learned that success is not instant – it is gradual and it requires both dedication and change. And you learned that to any goal which you ardently desire, you must devote your intelligence, your courage, and your strength.
In the classroom, which you have occupied far longer than the Stadium, and which you have shared not just with your classmates from the football team, but from every one of our tremendously successful teams, you have learned to think and to reason, to calculate and to deduce. In the classroom you learned to use your mind; in the stadiums and arenas, you learned to use your heart. And that is why, when you graduate, you wear a mortarboard on your head and a black robe across your chest. You are clothed in the uniform of achievement and victory.
But this cap-and-gown is really the Shamrock Series uniform of your life – it’s pretty funny looking, it’s comprised of a combination of odd colors, and you only wear it once. It also leaves out something essential…it leaves out your hands. You’ve learned to use your intelligence and your courage, your mind and your heart. But what about your strength? That’s in your hands. Hands that will write, compose, and design; hands that will care, heal, and cure; hands that will instruct, admonish, and encourage; hands that will pile up treasures and give away gifts; hands that will hold your children or be anointed with the oils of holy orders.
And it is onto your hand that is placed the most important symbol of Notre Dame graduation: The Ring. A beautiful ring that at graduation is taken off, flipped around, and put back on for the rest of your life. Our Lady’s Golden Dome on one side; Our Life, Our Sweetness, and Our Hope on the other; sprinkled throughout with the Irish symbol of blessing, the shamrock. It is not a symbol of graduation – it is a symbol of life.
Whenever you have the chance, look at the ring of an older alumnus. It is nicked and dinged, and there are chips missing here and there. So, too, will your life be marked by tests and trials, failures and losses. But these blemishes do not diminish the overall beauty of the ring; they make the ring unique to the wearer. And neither will these travails diminish the overwhelming beauty of your life; they will make it your life.
Whenever you have the chance, look at the ring of an ancient alumnus. It has been made smooth by age and years of hard wearing. All the sharp features are gone, along with all the scratches and scars, and it shines brightly all over. Let that happen to your life, too.
Make no mistake, your hands haven’t spent all of the last four years bent to work or folded in prayer. Your hands have caught footballs on the quad and held beer cans at parties. Your hands have clapped when your teams have won and when your friends have made fools of themselves in ridiculous situations. Your hands have stashed things in pockets, and executed pranks and dirty tricks. Your ring doesn’t somehow consecrate all these exploits, but it reminds you of all these good times that you’ve enjoyed under the Dome etched in its side – and in your hearts forever.
When you arrived here as a herd of freshmen in 2009, we said, “Welcome to Notre Dame!” As you graduate in 2013, we say, “Welcome to your lives!” No matter where you’re going, whether it’s across the country or around the world, you won’t be far. Because this place will always be here. And a good part of you will always be here…forever.
“By the waters of Miami, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Notre Dame.”
This is why, in our wisdom, we make you all take philosophy and theology, whether you like it or not. This is why you have to know a little something about what’s written in the Good Book, in order to be given a diploma written by our University. Read the above quotation – obviously it’s derived from Psalm 137 (even the Freshmen recognized that, right?). But there are some important differences: first, Miami is substituted for Babylon, though I detected very few dissimilarities between the original den of sin and iniquity in Mesopotamia and the bordello on South Beach; second, after a hard day of tailgating in the southern sun, our fans passed out more than sat down; and third, we were lamenting the first and only loss of the entire season, not the utter destruction of Notre Dame and the enslavement of all our students.
You have to be a philosopher about these things, not a tragedian. One of the two teams was going to walk away from that game with a loss (ever since they did away with that fascinating conundrum, the tie). The defeat we were handed was heavy; but be philosophical – it could have been much worse. You only have to look at Alabama’s previous victim opponent in a championship game to see that we scored two touchdowns more than the zero achieved by Louisiana State.
The strength of Alabama in recent years has given rise to much popular discussion of a “dynasty.” Dynasties are for Pharaohs, not football teams. Alabama just happens to be particularly strong when other opponents (but not Texas A&M) are relatively weak. Unlike pharaonic dynasties that lasted hundreds of years, Alabama is more like the Germans – powerful bullies who rise up occasionally and roll over everyone in sight, until they’re resoundingly beaten again and subside into a decade-or-so of sulky weakness.
Looking at our 12 victories from our undefeated regular season (an activity in which Alabama cannot indulge), a mystic might be inclined to say we saved up all of our opponents’ scoring for one devastating game, in effect taking 12 small wins in exchange for one big loss. That may sooth wounded pride, and if Buddha had played football that might be called karma. We have mystics in Catholicism, but not samsara – each game is won or lost in its own 60 minutes, and fortune or disaster are not traded fluidly among present and future events. Of course, being Catholic, our mystics asks what sins we committed so badly to be given a 42-14 penance. But look, you self-flagellating mystics, those 12 victories are still there and aren’t going anywhere.
If you want to blame any supervening force for a January loss, then join with me in my manic hatred for the witchery that is the BCS (in my opinion, properly written without the “C”). Under the old bowl system, Alabama and Notre Dame could very well have played different opponents. If both won, the matter of #1 would be left up to the voters in the polls. Of course, Notre Dame would remain the only undefeated team, and Alabama would still have a suppurating wound named Aggie. The polls could have been unanimous or split. Crimson Tide fans could fantasize about what it would have been like had they gotten at shot at the Fighting Irish (whilst all the time claiming their 37th national title). Notre Dame would argue that we deal in reality, not fever dreams, and the lively debate would rage. Those days were so much more exciting! And isn’t debate what we do in universities? Aren’t theories what we develop and argue with passion? Those who lack creativity or mental vigor are much happier with this dry and definitive system the BCS claims to provide, having taken the matter out of the hands of fickle voters. Except for the fact that getting to their glorious final game is entirely dependent on voters who adamantly refused to rank Notre Dame #1 until there was no other alternative.
Yet, it is of no value to blame the BCS – why not blame the Freemasons (it’s the same group, after all…literally). The weak, the spoiled, the self-indulgent, and the slaves to rage all want to blame someone. So we look to the Old Testament, which is a series of books about blame. Moses would blame the people for worshiping a golden calf – or in the case of our fans, an aluminum can. Joshua would blame lack of preparation, though we had ample time and the band provided plenty of trumpets. David would blame himself for his infidelity…oh, let’s not discuss unfaithful, straying leaders at just this moment. So we turn to the New Testament: Matthew would blame the Pharisees, Mark would blame the Scribes, Paul would blame Peter, Peter would blame the cock, everyone would blame the Romans, and John the Divine was just batshi crazy.
But what everyone in the New Testament can agree on is that until the Second Coming, we live in a fallen world where we all sin and bad things happen to good people and nothing has any business being perfect. And so what do I say about an unblemished season ending in an unsightly bowl bruise – “If it were all gone, I should not give up! I came here as a young man and dreamed of building a great university in honor of Our Lady. But I built it too small, and she had to burn it to the ground to make the point. So, tomorrow as soon as the bricks cool, we will rebuild it bigger and better than ever!”
Well, the bricks have cooled now. It’s time to start rebuilding.
Besides, I blame the Jesuits.
I was informed by a loyal reader currently in graduate school at Our Lady’s University, but who attended and undergraduate institution in the Deep South, that he had a recent discussion with an acquaintance from the University of Alabama. In the course of this chat, the Alabama student indicated that he didn’t know Notre Dame is a Catholic university.
Just a week ago, our students engaged in that biannual academic marathon knows as final exams. They have now spent the last seven days like invalids, vampires, or burrowing nocturnal creatures, remaining bed-ridden and semi-comatose until dusk. Lest our young men and women lose all their intellectual vigor, and since I was inspired by the spirit of instruction that the previously mentioned Notre Dame lad displayed in educating his Alabama friend, I have composed a brief examination for students from both universities. Take the test and see how you fare, but be sure to select answers from your college’s section.
1. What are the grammatical errors in the following sentence?
If Notre Dame were to beat Alabama in the final game, they would be undefeated and the undisputed National Champions of college football.
a) “National Champions” is not a technical or formal title and therefore should not be capitalized.
b) “Undisputed” should be “indisputable.”
c) In the subordinate, introductory, conditional clause, the verb “were” is in the subjunctive mood, implying a condition contrary to fact; however, in that it is possible for Notre Dame to defeat Alabama, the verb should be in the indicative mood.
d) The subject of the subordinate clause is “Notre Dame” which is singular; therefore the subsequent pronoun which refers to “Notre Dame” should be third person, neuter, singular: “it” not “they.”
e) Both (a) and (b)
f) Both (c) and (d)
g) None of the above
a) We’re playing the Irish not Noter-whoever.
b) Doesn’t say “Roll Tide” anywheres.
c) Not fair they get 2 names and we only get 1.
d) You need to stick “which ain’t gonna happen” somewhere in there.
e) “Undisputed” is a fancy word for “B***S***”
f) Maybe their all wrong.
g) One of the above, who in hell cares.
2. The most significant geological fact about the Mississippi River is:
a) As the primary river of the largest system on the continent of North America, the Mississippi watershed drains 31 different states and two Canadian provinces.
b) The Mississippi formed a border and barrier for New France, New Spain, and the fledgling United States.
c) The Mississippi conducts a large volume of agricultural runoff, creating the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone off its delta.
d) In the early 20th Century, commerce and travel on the Mississippi was heavily controlled by construction of locks, levees, dams, and dikes.
a) Omagawd! Say that last word again!
b) If it was good for anything it would flood out Mississippi State, but it doesn’t matter none because this Tide swamps them every year anyway.
c) The water tastes like stanky catfish.
d) If it goes by Ole Miss, it doesn’t flow – it sucks!
3. A 50-year-old forest of oak trees would sequester _________ pounds of _________ per acre in a year. The same forest would emit ________ pounds of __________.
a) 22,000…oxygen; 30,000…carbon dioxide
b) 30,000…carbon dioxide; 22,000…oxygen
c) 22,000…carbon dioxide; 30,000…oxygen
d) 30,000…oxygen; 22,000…carbon dioxide
a) Just feed ‘em some kerosene – that’ll take care of their breathing for good!
b) Screw Auburn.
c) My dog Bear treed a whole family of raccoons in a big oak once.
d) Screw Auburn.
4. If a rooster sits atop a barn that has a roof sloping downwards at a 20 degree angle, in a 10 mph breeze from the west, and it lays an egg, which way will it roll?
a) The question cannot be answered because the orientation of the barn with respect to the wind is not given.
b) The question presupposes that the egg would be deposited directly at the apex of the barn’s roof, a condition that would be highly improbable under any circumstances.
c) The question is invalid on its face because roosters do not lay eggs.
d) They question cannot be answered because it does not state that the angle of the barn’s roof is the same on both sides of the apex.
a) Trick question – roosters can’t climb.
b) Rooster eggs taste like s***.
c) Wring the thing’s neck before it makes a mess or gives backtalk.
d) Everyone knows chickens lay eggs. Roosters lay frogs.
5. A Graduation Success Rate of 97%, as compared to a Graduation Success Rate of 75%, most accurately means:
a) In a hypothetical sample of 100 students, at one school all but three will graduate, while at the other school 25 will fail to graduate.
b) Over the course of six years for which data on a particular group of students is available, at one school nearly all will graduate, while at the other school only three-quarters of the students will graduate.
c) The greatest measure of success for a college student is that he graduates.
d) Empirical evidence suggests that one school is more successful than the other.
a) Somebody’s cheating and somebody’s being honest.
b) There wasn’t supposed to be math on this.
c) George Wallace would punch you right in the mouth if you asked him a question like that.
d) There are more important things than graduating.
Even though it’s Advent, a time of sober preparation, and finals, a time of wailing and gnashing of teeth, people are already becoming sentimental and excited about Christmas. Maybe not Alabama students, since Tuscaloosa proudly calls itself Druid City (in which case we wish them a happy Winter Solstice). Even though it’s traditional to give presents on the Feast of the Nativity, the gift we are all hoping for won’t come until January 7. We’ll just pretend that there were actually four Magi bearing gold, frankincense, myrrh, and cut glass.
In order to pass the intervening month in a joyous spirit, especially for those holed-up in the library during finals week, I have taken the liberty of reimagining an old Christmas song with some inspiring figures, making it wholly Notre Dame’s own. I haven’t tried to force this into a singable meter – I’ll leave that for some creative students passing their “reading days” in a local tavern. So even if this doesn’t get your toe tapping, it should lift your spirits as we eagerly anticipate the glorious festival of our salvation, the National Championship…oh, and Christmas.
Sung to the Tune of The Victory March The Twelve Days of Christmas – sort of – you know, “On the first day of Christmas, the Irish gave to me:”
12 Regular Season Victories
If you had asked a good number of “experts” and “journalists” in August of 2012, this entry should have been 12 losses…or at least six…but certainly five. The Mayan Jaguar Priests didn’t disappear – they work as sports broadcasters now.
11 National Championships
That’s 11 undisputed, hands-down American college football titles. Alabama lists something like 34, but that’s because they claim championships awarded by such groups as the Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter of Toad Suck, Arkansas. And as we all know, they’re not very good as activities like counting.
10 Unbroken Commandments
No one is saying our lads are perfect. As Catholics, we know very well how much we all sin (except the BVM). But this is a figurative reminder that we continue to try very hard to produce good football players and Good football players, who go to class, avoid evil, and graduate. And they certainly don’t covet any neighbors’ wives.
9 Different Decades at #1
This is not some numerical manipulation or stretching of facts (see Alabama, Toad Suck, AR, above). This reflects the fact that since the 1920s, Notre Dame has been the nation’s #1 team at least once a decade in every 10-year sequence, except from 2000-2010…and we will never speak of that again. Besides, the BVM appreciates whenever I can work in a Rosary plug.
8 Undefeated, Untied Seasons
Brian Kelly and his lads have already achieved something that’s even more rare than an undefeated season. They never even tied an opponent. Of course, that has more to do with the rules change which instituted a bizarre trench-warfare overtime system that more so resembles two boxers squaring up to punch each other below the belt until one goes down than it does a tiebreaker. But the fact remains that this Irish squad would have had two ties on its record, but instead slugged it out to pick up two wins…and caused their fans to age several decades in the process.
7 Heisman Trophies
This number is subject to change very shortly. All that’s required for this entry to move up to eight, is a fit of honesty on the part of some voters.
6 Awards for Manti
I’m still not clear on how our big Hawaiian lad got to Northern Indiana, but with all these commemorative sculptures, we’ll have to pay some serious shipping charges to get him home. Hawaii has given the Church two Saints in the last three years – and Hawaii has given Notre Dame one big hero.
5 Championship-Winning Coaches
This number is subject to change in one month. What’s nice for Brian Kelly is that his Notre Dame “Dad” and “Grandpa” are still around to celebrate this with him. Though I don’t think Lou or Ara would be eager to sit Brian on their knee and tell him stories about winning a championship, I’m sure they have shared their encouragement with the new kid. And maybe they’ll take him fishing come spring when the lakes thaw.
4 Bear Bryant Losses
A legendary figure in American college football, he was responsible for six of Alabama’s championships that are real, not fever dreams. But Bear Bryant never beat the Irish. Not once. Just ask Grandpa Ara.
3 French Priests
Let’s not lose sight of how we all got here. If it weren’t for Fr. Basil Moreau and yours truly, there would be nothing to celebrate – literally. And my nephew Fr. Auguste Lemonnier makes three Frenchmen. The rest of the presidents have been Irish. Except Ted Hesburgh who is a Luxembourger. Which is close to France, but not close enough.
Keep in mind that this will only be the Leprechaun’s fifth championship. That’s not to say the little elf hasn’t earned it. But all those Irish Terriers pulled their weight for the first seven championships, most famously Clashmore Mike. Sure they smelled a bit, made a filthy mess, and were difficult to train. But the dogs didn’t bite as hard as the Leprechaun.
1 Crystal Football
As trophies go, it’s not the most majestic. It looks like it should be full of jellybeans or cigarette butts. But it’s easy to hoist above one’s head. Over the next month perhaps Papa Lou can lend Brian, Manti, Tyler, Kapron, and Zack his crystal football so they can practice the victory lift.
We find ourselves is a strange position, awash with unaccustomed emotions. No, this has nothing to do with being undefeated and Number 1. That is our proper position and we should feel simple contentment for, indeed, all is right with the world. I mean we are caught up in the unusual furor of conference-hatred. Not belonging to one of these mutual-mediocrity-assurance societies, we have no natural animosity toward any of them. Normally, we deride them all equally. (Do we hate the Big 10? No, we feel sorry for the Big…whatever it is now.) Yet, suddenly we are fixated on that beast called the SEC; that’s supposed to stand for Southeastern Conference, but they way these names defy logic, we’ll just leave it at an ambiguous triliteration.
As a collective, the SEC seems particularly arrogant and loathsome. Educationally, they do not teach such big words as those. In short, there’s not much to like and quite a bit to hate – especially since they will shortly pit two of their hulking, spittle-flecked football gangs against each other in order to determine which wounded creature will have the privilege of fighting the Irish. Quite sure of themselves, these Southern cult-vehicles believe that either of them will rumble over a hapless Notre Dame. Please note, 12 other teams have already labored under that same misapprehension this year.
A preliminary blow was struck in this new battle last evening, when the basketball lads soundly defeated a heavily-favored SEC squad on the hardwood. Much of the ferocity that the Leprechaun Legion ginned-up last night was born of the burgeoning abhorrence for the SEC writ large (though I do not think many in the SEC can write).
This is not appropriate. We are preparing for Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of hope and light in the world. We should not be summoning all the dark forces of hatred at this time of joy. And so I propose that we find a way to love our enemies. Since I know this is impossible with the Irish race, whose members will forget everything but their grudges, I instead propose something simpler and more concrete: Good Works.
Holy Mother Church has long provided a simple check-off list of Good Works that everyone should do. As with so many things Holy Mother Church teaches, these don’t exactly work well in the context of college. Hence I have taken the liberty of presenting a reinterpreted list of Good Works that all Irish students, alumni, and fans can undertake with a special emphasis on helping – not hating – the philistines folks of the SEC.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy, Collegiate Edition
Instruct the Ignorant: No, this is not a slight against SEC education (but really, your team’s score at the end of a game should not be higher than its graduation rate). This means that we should spread the good news about the Fighting Irish, talented college students who take time out from attending class and studying to defeat teams from Dublin to Los Angeles. These lads have worked hard and earned every victory; they have not preyed upon a roster of weak opponents or waited for lucky breaks. Certainly fortune has favored them, just as it smiled upon Wellington at Waterloo. For SEC fans: Wellington was the general who defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo; Napoleon was the bad guy because…where to begin… This isn’t the point. The point is we have an inspiring story to tell about our team; let’s proclaim that instead of defaming the no-books club that we will face in the final game.
Counsel the Doubtful: Who didn’t doubt the Irish this season? Aside from those of simple, unshakable faith, those with faith enough to make multiple mountainous goal-line stands, it was almost fashionable to have deep doubts about Notre Dame straight up to the latter minutes of the last game. And that doubt persists, especially within the SEC where they seem to believe they play a longer, harder, more brutal version of American college football. In the South games last days, touchdowns only count for 4 points and a team must score at least 112 to win while simultaneously preventing the opponent from gaining even one yard, and large blunt weapons are issued to all players. They play 53 games a season (which would account for their graduation “success” rates). Of course, this is a canard – as is the notion that all SEC teams are, by their nature, superior to teams in Oklahoma, California, Michigan, and Indiana. Let there be no doubt that the Irish can meet, match, and supersede any SEC team on the field (and already have in the classroom).
Admonish Sinners: What a gift we have given to Rick Reilly. No, not the VIP behind-the-scenes tour loyal fans would sacrifice a limb to enjoy; not the free publicity; and not the chance to make new friends and look magnanimous doing so. We gave Reilly the opportunity to expiate his sins with hard work – frankly, the only hard work or honest job he’s done in decades. We told him in no uncertain terms that he had unjustly slandered Notre Dame. Then our lads proved it. Then we let him lift the burden of his sins from his shoulders with a little elbow grease. Across the country many who had been sternly advised that their words about the Irish were unfair have now been shown the error of their ways. Do not fall into the trap, SEC fans, of ridiculing Notre Dame. Consider yourselves warned.
Bear Wrongs Patiently: We did. All season. From everyone. Patience is 12-0. Just hold on for one more.
Forgive Offenses Willingly: Let us look to Lou Holtz as the paradigm of this virtue. While most of the Irish faithful faced a general skepticism and a vague mockery, Professor Emeritus Holtz was scorned, derided, and taunted by his own co-workers, repeatedly and prominently. He did not cower, nor carp, nor lash out. The noble Holtz was given terrible offense, but he stayed true. He even forgave gave that loutish May knave; and he gave him an opportunity to dress properly for once.
Comfort the Afflicted: Once again, we feel very sorry for the Big 10. It will be all right. You’ll pull through somehow. Chin up and give us a smile – you just picked up two new mediocre-to-poor football teams. Courage!
Pray for the Living and the Dead: That’s what Sacred Heart and the Grotto are for, and every chapel in every dorm. We pray for the lads on the team who are very much living a dream right now. And we pray for those no longer with us. Even whichever SEC team is left crumpled in a heap on the field in Miami come January 7.