ND Newswire Extra: A senior welcome to first-year students and their parents

by Keri Oxley

First Year Orientation is an important two-day event at Notre Dame. Speakers before the assembled new students and their parents always get a respectful hearing, but now and then someone genuinely stirs the emotions and creates what has come to be known as a “Notre Dame Moment.” On Saturday, Aug. 23, in the Joyce Center, senior Keri Oxley of Fremont, Ohio, brought the crowd of about 6,000 to its feet with a sustained ovation after her account of what the University has meant to her and what it can mean to them. The text of Oxley’s speech follows:

By this point, your minivans and SUVs are unloaded, you’ve seen the movie “Rudy” and perhaps the theme song is still lingering in your subconscious. Class of 2007 you probably never imagined you’d be woken up this early on a Saturday morning while in college, let alone we’d have you singing such a diverse number of cheesy dorm songs. Yes! It does feels like summer camp ? and parents, you?re probably still praying that if your son is living in Zahm Hall it will be the best four years of his life ? not the best seven years.

When I recall my initial moments as a first-year student, I am flooded with a multitude of emotions: Excitement ? Anxiety ? Fear ? Anticipation ? Readiness. I was initially overwhelmed to see the small army of Badin Hall women all outfitted in the same dorm paraphernalia. They were eagerly awaiting my arrival ? energized to carry all my clothes, the refrigerator , even the futon ? up four flights of stairs to my tiny dorm room. Well, I had learned a valuable piece of information on my move-in day which I am certain all of you are now quite aware of: The admissions office is not joking about the size of that dorm room. The U-Haul truck I packed to the brim was larger than the actual room I was to share with two people for the upcoming year. So on my first day of First Year Orientation, I was forced to prioritize and decide which items were to stay and which I must send home. One dorm accessory I had to eliminate was a full-length mirror.

It was not until last summer when I began to ponder the implications of forgoing the full-length mirror my first year. A little over a year ago I was blessed with the opportunity to volunteer with Mother Teresa’s sisters in Calcutta, India. It was the vitality of this University that fostered my desire to share meaningful moments with the poorest of the poor. It was the spirituality Notre Dame offered that sparked my strong devotion to Mother Teresa ? and it was the Center for Social Concerns (an organization on campus devoted to social outreach) that brought this ministry to fruition. I mention this facet of my life with you today because it links back to those initial days my first year.

While in Calcutta, I was able to work in Kalighat, Mother Teresa’s home for the destitute and dying. We ministered in a way that built the culture of life by caring for the abandoned until their last breath. After a few weeks of service in this home for the dying I observed something unique about my surroundings. There were no mirrors in Kalighat. No mirrors ? I was puzzled by this and located a sister to inquire the reason. She smiled at my realization and informed me that Mother Teresa’s home was intended to be a place without mirrors. ?Without mirrors we are forced to see our reflection through the eyes of others,? she said. Without mirrors we must begin the process of allowing others to challenge us ? mold us ? and become integral factors in our vocational journey.

My thoughts drifted back to those first days at Notre Dame, a period of my life when I had to abandon the full-length mirror in my dorm room. The perceptive Calcutta nun’s wisdom can be a challenge for all of us today. At this moment, it is tempting to stare in the mirror. Oftentimes, when fearful of new situations, we place shells around ourselves and turn inward, merely looking at our own perspective and reflection. However, we are called to action ? to be doers ? to allow the inspiring community around us to serve as a catalyst of our growth and development. This involves discarding our personal mirrors and looking to the eyes of others.

Class of 2007, you were selected from a record number of 12,096 applicants. Eighty-four percent of you participated in community service in high school, and more than 70 percent took part in varsity sports. You join us from all 50 states and 36 other countries. It is tempting to hear such vast statistics and become overwhelmed. I recall receiving such numbers as a first-year student and feeling paralyzed.p. p. I was wait-listed at this University, and it terrified me to contemplate that I was one of the final 20 students admitted to my class. However, the predominant component of my maturation at Notre Dame has been the continuous process of discarding mirrors ? those fears and insecurities in my life ? and accepting the opportunities this University so generously provides.

When the Class of 2003’s valedictorian stood on this stage this past May, she posed a challenge to her classmates. Quoting Pope John Paul II and Christ Himself she stated: “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” Just as our outgoing graduates were urged not to allow fear to overwhelm the illuminated path ahead, you too must hold a similar disposition.

“Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid to look to the reflections of the Notre Dame community ? Sign-up for the retreat at Campus Ministry ? Be a hall commissioner ? Join student government ? Cherish late night discussions ? Dress to the theme of your dorm dances ? And at the football games, cheer cheer and wake up the echoes ? Be malleable ? Integrate your life.

This is your time. You have four sacred years ahead of you. Now is the time to abandon your mirror and look outward. Allow the people you live with in community ? your rectors and your advisors ? to challenge you, to guide you, to aid your growth.

Next week you will enter the classroom and the professor will hand you a syllabus for the semester. I ask you to do one thing upon receiving your syllabi: Write down the office hours! It took me over a year to grasp the concept that office hours are not intended for desperate cases of flunking a class. The faculty of Notre Dame is at the forefront of creating knowledge in today’s society. They are some of the most talented and intellectually gifted people in our nation. Moreover, they devote hours of additional time every week just to meet with you. At Notre Dame I have personally experienced the professors? passion for a particular subject coupled with a never-ceasing desire for students? intellectual discovery. They will motivate you to delve into the rich diversity of academic life. For them, along with the University’s administration and your rector or rectress, you, the student, are the utmost priority. The vocation of the Notre Dame community is to serve as a conduit for your own vocational path.

In addition to mentors and professors, I urge you to look to the eyes of your fellow classmates. Abandon the mirrors in your dorm, in the dining hall, on the quad, and see your reflection and potential through the eyes of the talented group of peers surrounding you. The depth of friendships you will foster on this campus will be life-long. This past summer my oldest brother was ordained a priest for my home diocese. Such a multitude of my Notre Dame friends came to celebrate that we had to set up an entire corner of the reception hall just to seat all the Domers! This is how supportive and altruistic your Notre Dame relationships will become.

Beyond these celebratory occasions, you will also experience the loyalty and faith that binds friendships amidst more trying times. I recall the tragic events of September 11. On this campus the response to such devastation was a true depiction of the charism of Notre Dame. A crowd of greater numbers than the people in this convocation center today gathered on South Quad the afternoon of September 11. In front of the flagpole we united to celebrate the Mass as many mourned losses and all prayed for healing. This was a moment of great sorrow, yet forever will be a profound illustration of the compassionate community and spirit of Notre Dame.

Parents and guardians, I acknowledge your heartache when saying good-bye tomorrow. My mother and father still cry every time they bid me farewell. Their tears now, however, are tears of joy and pride, with the assurance that they are leaving me with a new family ? a family that has broadened my scope and guided my life journey in ways we had never imagined. This is the Notre Dame family. WELCOME!

To the 22 percent of you who are legacies, you’re parents and grandparents have experienced the magic beneath this Dome and have encouraged you to embark on the same educational path. To the families who are here for the first time, I am confident that witnessing your own child’s development will serve as proof for this priceless journey.

The evening I was elected president of my class, I ventured down to the Grotto and lit a candle for my classmates. Throughout my service in this leadership position ? and now years after ? I have kept a candle lit in that same location day after day.

Now over the past years I’ve become a bit lax on the whole donation policy with lighting Grotto candles. I should not be admitting this in front of President Malloy, but by this time I have accumulated a hefty tab at the Grotto. My justification is that the tuition pays it off!!!

Last night I decided to light an additional candle ? in a spot directly above the location I have kindled for the past three years. Class of 2007 this is your candle! I promise to keep this candle glowing throughout the duration of your first year.

There are no mirrors at the Grotto, only reflections. Allow the light of this candle to serve as a reminder to seek the challenges and reflections from the inspiring community around you. Class of 2007: I welcome you to the Notre Dame family.

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