Beauty: Community, campus and culture

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The tower through the fall leaves. Photo by Mary Kate Leonard

If there are two things we can know for certain at UD, it’s one: people have lots of opinions regarding the artwork, and two, many of those opinions are negative. Everyone is familiar with the various critiques of the looks of UD; the modern art in Gorman, the crucifix in the Church of the Incarnation, and the ‘60s style architecture are just a few of the staple criticisms levied at UD’s physical attributes, and I tend to sympathize with many of them. 

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to attend conferences at two beautiful college campuses: the Catholic University of America and Notre Dame. Both are older Catholic universities that are renowned for their sheer size and physical beauty: CUA is home to the National Shrine and the Dominican House of Studies — it practically looks like a Catholic Hogwarts. 

Notre Dame needs no introduction. It was truly an honor to be able to celebrate Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and being able to see the historic college in its entirety was a great experience that I will treasure forever. 

I was at first envious of what these schools had that UD didn’t. CUA’s philosophy building is as large as Braniff, and the Basilica at Notre Dame contains stunning paintings and a reliquary that rivals the collections in Rome. I kept wondering why UD couldn’t have buildings that at least even remotely resemble the grandeur of these colleges. 

In other words, why isn’t as UD beautiful?

But upon further reflection, I realized that UD is indeed beautiful — just not in the way we first think of what it means to have “beauty.” For example, as beautiful as the architecture of these colleges is, they also reminded me of one of the reasons why I picked UD: Ultimately, I preferred a smaller school when it came to selecting a college. 

One of the aspects of UD that I consider to be indispensable is how connected I feel to the community — I can go to any part of campus and be confident that I will run into a friend, whether that entails a great conversation or simply a friendly wave. 

That is not the case at CUA or Notre Dame. Had I chosen one of these colleges, I would have been surrounded by beautiful architecture, but I would’ve felt alone in a sea of people who I did not know. CUA and Notre Dame are both fantastic colleges, but UD is that and more; it’s a home. 

What’s more is that when it comes to education itself, there seem to be two competing philosophies.

The impression I got at Notre Dame is that a college education is merely a means to an end. You go to school not just to learn for learning’s sake, but rather to get as valuable of a degree as possible to then get the highest paying job as possible. At UD, there is a hunger for learning that goes beyond this utilitarian mindset. People want to read their books for class and engage in conversation because they see an inherent value in the wisdom that you gain from such an education. 

Money is certainly still an important consideration, but I cannot imagine doing all of the work at UD if I was just in it for the paycheck. Beautiful buildings and churches mean nothing if you don’t have a solid community to back it up. 

UD is far from perfect and leaves much to be desired when it comes to its physical beauty, but in the grand scheme of things, that is not what matters. UD’s beauty lies in what is not visible on the surface: the culture, the education and the people are what make UD beautiful and are the reason why many forgo “higher-ranked” colleges to receive a fulfilling, liberal arts education. UD is a fantastic college, but more importantly, it’s a welcoming home.

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