“What dorm are you in?” These words resound in my ears and I pause a minute before answering: “Well…I’m not in a dorm yet. I’m in the Gateway program.” Since few people know what Gateway is, these conversations usually end with an attempt on my part to explain the program, and the response, “Cool, good luck!” from obviously confused Notre Dame students.

Although these various students usually don’t understand the program and probably forget our conversation seconds later, they’re right—Gateway is cool, and I am immensely proud and lucky to be a part of it.

Waitlisted by Notre Dame in March, I didn’t find out about Gateway until late May when I had already committed to Villanova University. Two carefully picked roommates, a dorm request sent in, Villanova apparel hanging in my closet—what was I supposed to do? Villanova was a great school. Still, it never felt right and no matter how hard I tried to love Villanova, it just wasn’t Notre Dame.

But what was the Gateway program?  With a few Google searches, I learned that the program was created in 2013 for students wishing to attend Notre Dame.  Students in the program complete a year of honors courses at Holy Cross College, with a guaranteed transfer to Notre Dame their sophomore year if they maintain a 3.5 GPA and earn no grades less than a B.  Going to a tiny college just a mile from the school of my dreams, trekking the mile-long “holy hike” over to Notre Dame daily, potentially feeling like an outcast on the green lawns and fresh classrooms of Notre Dame—this was undoubtedly not the freshman year I’d been expecting. Should any of this matter, I asked myself, when Notre Dame was guaranteed if I completed this program?

Confused and unsure, I had an extremely stressful week as the deadline for my decision approached. Studying for my final exams one night, distracted by my tortured thoughts on Gateway, I happened to look up at a poster pinned to my bulletin board. It read: “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”  Call me cheesy, but I had pinned that poster to my bulletin board a few years before, when my sister had become the second in our family to be rejected by Notre Dame. The poster had always been there to remind me that Notre Dame was the goal, and with hard work one day I might get a thick envelope from Notre Dame instead of the sickeningly thin ones my sisters received.

Looking at the quote, I knew that any disadvantages of the Gateway program were irrelevant. It might not be easy taking a leap of faith with the Gateway program. It was going to be a long detour on my path to Notre Dame, but when sophomore year came I would unquestionably know it had been worth it.

Now I know that choosing the Gateway program was not a mistake. Sure, it’s a humbling experience to talk to Notre Dame freshmen and attempt to explain the program. It’s humbling to walk so far to class, to relish the two Notre Dame dining hall swipes you get each week. It’s humbling to know that, although you worked hard in high school, the journey isn’t over yet. This humility is good, however, because it gives all of us in Gateway an immense appreciation for the chance to be a Notre Dame student that few Notre Dame students can match.

Gateway students embody the spirit of Notre Dame because they were willing to take a chance, a leap of faith, in the hopes of one day being a member of the Fighting Irish. The Gateway cohort of 2018 is special not just because of the many intelligent and hardworking members of the program, but because of the character and excitement each student displays. Need I mention the student who did a Trump impersonation video for his “take a risk” essay?

We all took a risk coming to South Bend. We all worked hard, and we are all proud to be part of the 2018 Gateway cohort. Gateway has taught all of us that with a little hard work and sacrifice, dreams really do come true. Although this year may not have been easy, for the rest of our lives we will know that it was worth it.

Theresa Olohan is a freshman in the Gateway program who loves ND’s campus when it’s sunny outside. To share her joy contact her at tolohan2@nd.edu.