Junior Parents' Weekend at Notre Dame

Our Notre Dame adventure is about to come to a close.  The day this is published, we will be in South Bend for Teddy’s graduation, and I’m sure there will be stories and adventures to share!
But before that, let’s go back to last February, to Junior Parents’ Weekend, which for some reason I did not write up at the time.
Many colleges have special weekends each year for families.  Spring Hill did, and I attended four Family Weekends, bringing along various family members each time.   Because Emily did not have a car and we had to pick her up for every vacation, our visits to Mobile were quite frequent, and we grew very familiar with and fond of the city.
Our Notre Dame experience has been different.  In contrast to the over 20 times one or the other of both of us drove back and forth to Mobile, we’ve been to Notre Dame maybe six times.
So JPW was a big deal.  It started off rockily, as we were a little late to the big dinner gathering Teddy’s friends and their families–three tables full of them, with Italian food served family style.
JPW 27JPW 28JPW 29 Afterwards, we headed to the Joyce Center for the Opening Gala, but we only milled around there for a bit because we were tired.
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The next morning we attended the Open House at the Business School (Teddy has double-majored in Political Science and Finance).
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We spent the rest of the day walking around campus and seeing sights.
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We’ve visited Notre Dame in summer, fall, and spring, and for this winter visit I was hoping to see some snow, but I suppose I should be grateful that it was unseasonably mild as you can see.
Notre Dame boasts its own art museum, the Snite Museum of Art.   We thought we were going in for a quick look but remained for some time, impressed by the size and quality of the collection.


Of course, I couldn’t pass up the chance to walk around one of the lakes with Teddy.
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There’s no such thing as a special weekend at a Catholic college without a special Mass, so next we headed back to the Joyce Center for Saturday evening services.
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Then it was just a short trip to another area of the building for the President’s Dinner.  Check out the Irish detailing on the dessert below!
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The REAL fun happened after the dinner and the speeches, when Teddy and a group of his friends hosted a party for us at one of their off-campus residences.  Some of dads in particular had a lot of fun reliving their misspent youths.  There was certainly much alcohol, and beer pong was played, but what I enjoyed much was talking to Teddy’s friends and renewing friendship with some of the moms I had met on my last visit.
It was a LATE night, and then there was brunch in the morning followed by the long drive home.  I can’t believe that it was more than a year ago already, but what is even more unbelievable is that Teddy’s four years at Notre Dame have gone by so quickly.

Letting Go

“Is there anything to eat?”

I think that’s maybe what I’ll miss the most–my hungry boy saying those words to me, in person or on the phone, usually multiple times on any given day.  I almost cried this weekend watching him fight his way through the mob in the cafeteria, trying to fill up his plate with meat.  I wished he could just sit down somewhere and wait while I sauteed a pan of boneless chicken tenders, just the way he likes them.

We left him at Notre Dame yesterday, about to begin his big adventure.  I’m not worried about him.  I’ve been through four years of college with one kid already and I know we will all be okay.  But I also know that things will never be the same.  Teddy is in many ways a closed book to me, with his own thoughts and his own life that he does not share.  But he still relies on me for certain things, and that is going to change.

When he was little, when he needed me, he would say, “Hold mine hand.”  He didn’t want to hold hands for long, just for a few seconds, until he felt better.  He’s always been good at letting go.  But he let me hold his hand this weekend, and he didn’t make a fuss when I played with his beautiful, thick, too-long hair.   He hugged me good-bye, and when I cried he hugged me again.

I was the one to let go, to say good-bye and turn and walk away.  One morning you go to a hospital, and you leave with a baby.  Eighteen years later, you go to a college, and leave without one.

Maybe only a mother can look at a six foot 260-lb. man and see her baby.  But I do.

Teddy Pumpkin
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Letting Go
UPDATE: This morning Teddy left to begin his Senior year at Notre Dame. The good-byes definitely get easier, but the homecomings are no less exciting! As I expected when I wrote this, we have seen less and less of Teddy. He came home that first summer, but worked in Chicago the following summer and was in in Stamford, Connecticut this summer. His end-of-summer visit home this year was interrupted by trips to New York City and San Francisco for job interviews. But he still likes me to feed him when he is home, and I find he still depends on us for help with a few things, even as he heads toward becoming a full-fledged adult.

UPDATE PART II:  Teddy graduated in May 2017 and moved to San Francisco in July.   

Training the Mind

“A liberal education is at the heart of a civil society, and at the heart of a liberal education is the act of teaching.”
~ A. Bartlett Giamatti 
I am a BIG believer in Liberal Arts education.   I majored in English at Georgetown University, and rather obviously I did not choose that major with the thought of future employment in mind!  Later I was a Graduate Assistant at what was then the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Tennessee, and I grew very frustrated by kids who just wanted to know how to graduate as fast as possible with their only goal a job waiting at the end, kids who just couldn’t get the point of having to take English or Philosophy classes because that wouldn’t help them make money.  Me, I’ve always thought of KNOWLEDGE as the pot of gold at the end of that college rainbow.
Leslie's Graduation
And in my opinion, a good college or university shouldn’t just offer a smorgasbord of classes for kids to dive into without direction.  Perhaps they will gorge themselves on their favorites, while ignoring delicacies that they might fall in love with if they had to taste them.  No, a good school will guide its students and help form their minds.
So I was astonished and disappointed to discover that this very important role of a good school has been abandoned by some of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in this country.  Although student guides at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton gave lip service to the ideal of breadth as well of depth in education, they also said things like: “We don’t want anyone having to take classes they don’t want to,” “We don’t have a lot of core requirements like other schools,” “You might not be taking any of the same classes as the other freshmen.”
What these schools espouse is the concept of core AREAS, and I won’t go into the details of each curriculum except to say they are similar at the Big Three.  Every student has to take one course from each of the areas.  Given the only four courses per semester a Harvard student takes, that means the average student spends a year on these courses.  The areas are so broad that at Princeton, for example, a Pottery course comes from the same area as a Literature course, so that you might graduate from what is supposed to be one of the best schools in the country without ever taking a college-level English class.
Many of the offerings the kids mentioned sounded fascinating as electives, but inappropriate as core courses:  Medieval Navigation as a science course, for example.  (I believe that was at Harvard).  My son thinks it’s great to be able to take whatever you want, and I’m sure most eighteen-year-olds feel the same.  After twelve years of being told exactly what classes to take and when, such freedom is intoxicating.
But most freshmen in college don’t have a clue about what classes they should take.  How could they?  How many of them have ever taken a class in Philosophy or Theology?  How would they know whether they would enjoy these classes?  How many of them equate boring experiences in a class in high school with the same subject in college which may be very different?  A good college should be making sure that its students are exposed to all these subjects so that they can make an educated decision about what they pursue on an upperclass level.  A good college should be trying to turn out well-rounded kids who DO take some of the same classes as their peers, both for collegiality and in the interest of turning out adults who share a common foundation of knowledge.
I am happy to report that Jesuit institutions apparently still value the concept of a core curriculum.  Although Georgetown’s curriculum has loosened up a bit since I attended there, apparently in the interests of multi-culturalism, students there will still find themselves taking core classes for two full years, and many of them are specific classes that everyone will take.  English, Philosophy, Theology, History, Science, Math, Languages, and Social Sciences are all covered.  Additionally, Georgetown still has what we called the Sophomore Rule, stating that you cannot take two classes in the same discipline in the same semester until your junior year, a clever way of preventing people from trying to get a jump start on a major at the expense of exploration.
I had two friends in college who switched from Foreign Service to English majors because of their experience in their required English courses.  After my required Theology courses, I chose to minor in Theology.   Because I took the Liberal Arts Seminar my freshman year I got out of a lot of the required classes (although not the subjects) and as much as I enjoyed the Seminar I have always been a little regretful that I did not share the experiences of the majority of my classmates and that I did not get the same basic grounding that they did.
“It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”
~Albert Einstein (a Princeton Professor, by the way, 1921, on Thomas Edison’s opinion that a college education is useless; quoted in Frank, Einstein: His Life and Times, p. 185.)
What do you think?  Am I over-reacting?  Did any of you end up liking a subject you never would have explored if you hadn’t had to?  Talk to me in the comments!