Daniel Orazio, Commentary Editor
I have imagined writing this piece for many months now, and as I finally sit down to write it, I realize how difficult a task I have set for myself and several of this issue’s contributors. It is not easy to reflect justly and truly, in only a few hundred words, on four years of one’s life.
I don’t know about other seniors, but when I was voting for superlatives I had a very hard time with the “most” and “least changed since freshman year” categories. Who can remember freshman year? It feels—at least it feels for me—like half a lifetime ago. There are many people I know well now whom I never spoke to or maybe never even heard of during freshman year. It is a great testament to the sort of 18-year-old who chooses to come to this school that some of the people in my class whom I like and respect the best are people I only got to know after Rome.
It’s another great testament to this university that there are a score of juniors I like so much, a part of me wants to fail out so that I can spend another year with them. It took three crazy paper-writing all-nighters in four nights two weekends ago to ensure that I will (likely) graduate, but there’s still a temptation to linger another year among the wonderful class of 2014. (And don’t get me started on the Isabel Duberts and Killian Beelers of the class of 2015.)
As I think back on my four years at the University of Dallas, I certainly thank goodness for the Rome semester. Without it, I might never have made more than a handful of friends. I had been blessed with a half dozen or so great friendships during my first three semesters; little did I know that I was going to spend three and a half months in close quarters with another 100 people worth getting to know and then befriending.
What never ceases to impress me about UD students is how kind they are, almost to a man. I am basically a petty, judgmental person, so I have been given opportunities abundant to be proven wrong about people I had at first dismissed as stupid or weird or not nice or uninteresting. Pretty much everyone I know here is a good person; if anyone is the odd man out, it’s me. I can say without the slightest bit of exaggeration or excess that I have never been around a group of people so warm, so kind and so godly. In a word, the students, professors and staff at this school are the most virtuous group of people I’ve ever known or, I regret to predict, that I will ever know.
It’s a rare breed, this “Crusader.” UD may be a restrictive bubble and flawed in many ways, but I’ve had enough experience of the world outside to know that what’s here is better than what’s there. I wish I could pack its culture up in my suitcase—in some bubble wrap, naturally—and take it with me when I leave. I’m sure I’ll miss it every day.
Any resentment I might have had about this or that shortcoming of this school was erased this past month, during my fellow classics major Jill Prososki’s near-death ordeal. Until the events beginning April 10th, the idea that “God brings good out of evil” was for me just that, an idea. It was an abstraction, a vague notion, an oft-repeated claim for which I could claim no personal witness. Now I know it to be true.
My old piano teacher says he is grateful that in the middle of high school he was afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome, which initially nearly killed him, and I have heard cancer survivors say they were glad they had the opportunity to fight their battles. It isn’t for me to say that it was for the best that Jill had to endure what she endured, but I can say that I am awfully grateful that, if she had to go through everything that she went through, she went through it here, where I could be a witness.
If I am to remember nothing else of my four years here, I would like it to be the memory of crowding into that ugly little chapel the night Jill was admitted to the ICU, my back close against the wall, tears in my and others’ eyes and prayers bursting from our worried hearts, all of us in complete surrender to the ineffable will of the One from whom all good things come—the One from whom in this case so much good came, not merely the preserving of a young woman’s life but the outpouring of love and piety that sprang instantly and generously from the souls of her many good friends, and even, if much more slowly, from my own.
Almost every aspect of the Christian life is a struggle for my lazy, selfish self, so the fact that, during Jill’s dark hour, I said the Rosary three or four days in a row is little short of miraculous. The Catholic character of this school is real and potent, and though it would be aided by a pretty church and an old-world Marian grotto, it’s mighty powerful as it is, as this sorry sinner can attest.
At the end of my time at this college on a hill, I find I have changed my tune not only toward those people in my class I once disdained but now esteem, but also toward the Cap Bar, to which I used to be indifferent or even hostile but whose iced-chai lattes I now delight in, and toward the campus itself, which I have mocked for years but which has lately struck me, during this mercifully long and cool springtime, as almost England-like in its verdure. Only now, as an aging senior, do I see with the wide eyes of a young lover.
Then again, that is a fitting way in which to have grown, because this university runs on love. Students do not come here for august architecture or a prestigious education, and the professors do not teach here for money or scholarly advancement. We students come, and the professors teach, because we love the Western and Catholic intellectual traditions and true liberal learning, and because we love God.
And so we love UD. In front of the Supreme Court, Daniel Webster exclaimed of his beloved Dartmouth College, “It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!” Can we say anything less of this college—our college—small but loveable as it is?
Oft of a lousy night my junior year, I left my dovecote-like dorm room in the Hotel New Hall, walked up that miserable concrete hill, and eyed the plaque long-ago affixed on our iconic Tower. It is, I think, the most beautifully written expression of gratitude to the human and the divine that I will ever see on a college campus. After reading it, I could never return to my wretched Greek composition in quite the same gloomy state of mind. It is a pleasure to reflect—and it only comes to me at this very moment—that the University of Dallas is “counter, original, spare, strange,” not so much unlike a brinded cow or trout that swim.
Glory be to God for this place.
Atque in perpetuum, alma mater, ave atque vale.