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The end of innocence



An ode to dorm life

As the sun sets on my junior year and I prepare to step out from under the shadow of the Dome, I am overcome with nostalgia for the past three years. During this time I have had the great luxury of bridging the gap between my parents’ home and the unforgiving world with the last great refuge of American youth, the college dorm. I think it’s a sad reality and a reflection of a deeper societal problem that so many seniors, myself included, choose to move off campus for their final year at Notre Dame.

In our fast-moving society, we are continually asked to grow up faster. The sandlot wiffle ball games of yesterday are now U-12 travel baseball; the summer landscaping jobs are now Wall Street internships; and our parents’ spring breaks in Daytona are now service trips to Appalachia. Though there’s virtue in our accelerated endeavor for excellence, it doesn’t leave much time, or offer much incentive, to stop and smell the roses.  

With a perpetual eye to the future, it can be easy to forget to take in the view from right here. For me, that view is a messy dorm room: clothes from the weekend still strewn on the floor, library books stacked 10 and 12 high, pictures of tailgates tacked to the walls, and the stale smell of old pizza and BO. The further one gets from 18-years-old, the more this scene begins to sound like a living hell. But to the trained eye, these are the smells and sights of youth, of innocence, of bliss.

Perhaps the greatest gift of college is the opportunity to slow our growing up just for a moment, and live like we’re at summer camp for four years. But too quickly it goes from a novelty to a nuisance–we forget that for 18 years sleepovers were a treat, that singing in the shower was always a solo affair, that we only had one closet-worth of clothes, and that if we didn’t like what mom made for dinner, tough luck.

As my friends and classmates look forward to senior year, there is constant talk of how nice it will be to not be beholden to dining hall food, to live with the luxuries that are dishwashers and full-sized beds, and, most importantly, to get out from under the watchful eye of rectors and RAs. I can’t help but think we have our whole lives to clean our own bathrooms, to pay our utility bills, to cook our own meals, and most of all to be “independent.”

Moving off campus, kissing our rectors and RAs goodbye, and leaving behind the “trials” of dorm life to play house with our girlfriends, we leave something else behind too: our youth. The experience of youth is inextricably linked to the omnipresence of authority, and in its absence we are forced to grow up and leave behind our carefree natures. Though we may push the boundaries, deep down we know that supervision means security. It means that we’re free to be young, to be vulnerable, and to exhibit moments of weakness because a second line of defense lies within arm’s reach.

For these three or four years, when the newness of the burdens of the world make them seem heavier, we are blessed with a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth lines of defense as well. Dorm life offers an intimacy like no other experience. Through mere proximity, we become inextricably linked to people who we aren’t related to us by blood, who we don’t necessarily choose, but who start out as strangers and, in the course of sharing hallways, hysteria, hopes, and hangovers, become our sisters.

Feet to feet, we go to bed in good times and in bad: when it feels like it’s 100 degrees and there is no AC, when heartbreak keeps us crying into the night, when we throw ourselves into bed as soon as darkness falls to escape the pain of a hard week, but also when we laugh and talk long into the night until we finally fall asleep much too late. It is here where we learn to be relied upon as much as we rely on others, where we share with one another our insecurities, our vulnerabilities, our most fragile states, and our greatest joys.

Rising seniors speak of moving off campus with joy and anticipation because they can’t wait for the next great adventure that awaits, but the beauty of life is that adventure exists behind every corner. We so frequently look back and lament that we were unaware of the ‘good old days’ when we were living them. Perhaps it would behoove us to take some time to appreciate the charms of youth: the lack of personal space, the sometimes overbearing authorities, and the deep sense of community and camaraderie which they induce.

So, when the last of my bags are packed and I turn the lights out on dorm life, I will shed more than just a tear over what I am leaving behind: roaches, backed up drains, the smell of overpriced laundry, 100 extra wardrobes, dance parties, roommate pillow-talk, and even Sister Sue. But, most of all, I’ll miss knowing that 10 of my biggest fans are no more than 10 yards down the hall to pick me up when I fall, or to laugh with me until I cry. Thank you, Notre Dame, for the beautiful crutch that is dorm life, and goodbye to the bliss we willingly forgo in favor of the irreversible independence we crave.

Keenan White is a junior studying political science with minors in history and Constitutional Studies. She is proud to have tried out three different dorms during her time on campus, Ryan Hall, Badin Hall and Pangborn Hall. You can email her at kwhite11@nd.edu.

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