By Adela Penagos, PhD, President
Ever since I was a kid, I awaited the precious summer months to travel a bit with my parents, siblings, and about 20 other people we used to host in a summer vacation spot: my dad’s ranch, located in the border between the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz, in southern Mexico. Many of my friends refer to our vacation there as time in paradise. It was an idyllic place, one of those described in many Latin American novels of the 19th century. It had a river, with crystal clear water; a stream; a lagoon; and enough horses for each guest to have their own. My late sister and I would get up at 5:30 every day to make sure my dad’s employees were meeting their duties milking the cows. Then we went to town to “sell the milk” – but really we would just go there to be seen and buy junk food at the small stores. When we returned, we had breakfast, and then it was time to ride our horses. My horse, “El Billín,” had been a racehorse prior to being passed down to me by my grandfather. Thus, I would run by the meadows with all my heart, never afraid of getting hurt, or concerned about the less skilled riders that tended to visit us. It was a time where I could devote myself only to riding. I experienced the freedom of going wherever I wanted to go all day long. While the daytime was time to let go and beat at my own drum, the evenings were community time. We would all gather around the table and spend time comparing stories of our whereabouts during the day, playing cards, and playing hide and seek. Therefore, the relationships we built with our guests have lasted a lifetime and we all remember our summers in the ranch with great fondness.
Many of you are probably beginning to think about where to go for college or graduate school. When discerning where to spend such an important time of your life, it is necessary to engage in some self-reflection. Are you someone who needs to engage nature while following your intellectual pursuits or would you rather this in the midst of a city? Do you thrive while relating to others and building community? There is not a right or wrong answer. These are preferential matters unique to each one of us. Pondering these questions helps while considering best college and university fit. You might decide to go a bit further and reflect on what type of intellectual and student life environment is essential to help you thrive: Do you like small classes with active discussions where you are learning directly from well-known faculty deeply committed to teaching? Do you prefer big classes where a professor lectures once in a while and graduate students teach you? Would you prefer a mix of both classroom settings? Do you want a place where the majority of students live on campus or off campus?
After spending nearly 20 years in the summer adventures described above, I began spending many summers in the Mexican Caribbean, Europe, and the United States. Perhaps because during the school year, while growing up, I went to Mexico City nearly once a month, or perhaps because while studying in France I could relate very well to the Parisian lifestyle, I have an easy time transitioning between small town and city life, while favoring the latter. This summer, keeping up with tradition, I am going to be able to spend time in my “home away from home,” Notre Dame, enjoying a bucolic environment there before heading to New York and Philadelphia.
My first stop is Notre Dame (ND). It is very easy to go there with all my heart, as a piece of it will always be there. While from Mexico, I am very much a Domer –the term used to refer to Notre Dame graduates— and love visiting it as often as I can. I have spent 17 years of my American life under the Golden Dome, Notre Dame’s Main Building, and can be myself in every corner of the campus. When looking at various possible schools to attend several years back, I visited ND and from the moment I set foot on campus, I knew this was the place for me. This is a feeling that I hope everyone looking for the right college or university has the opportunity to experience as it helps to embrace one’s school wholeheartedly.
Since my first time there, the feeling has not changed and whenever I go to Notre Dame –at least twice a year—I am as comfortable as when I go to Mexico. Each visit, there is a list of “special and simple” things I do. I stay with a great family on Notre Dame Avenue. They have always made me feel part of their family and very Irish, as they are from Dublin. Hence, it is very easy to adopt part of the routine of my former life there. Just like those good old days in McGlinn Hall, my Notre Dame days seem to pick up where they left off. I get up early, gaze at the Golden Dome with the same awe I did as a student, and run around the lakes. I use this time for self-reflection, to think of my priorities, my values, and ponder how those important items align with each other in my personal and professional undertakings. It is a great time to get my heart and mind in synch.
Then, I stop by the Grotto –one of the most sacred places on campus and a replica of the grotto in Lourdes, France – to enjoy nature, to pray, and to be still for 30 minutes, as I know that the remainder of the day will be a whirlwind. I have to see all the people I care about on campus –and there are many— in a very short period of time. I have to visit nearly twenty friends, who are like family, from Student Affairs and Campus Ministry to First Year of Studies, Arts and Letters, the Hesburgh Library, and Holy Cross. For lunch, there are two places that are a must: SDH (South Dining Hall) and La Esperanza. Believe it or not I have to go all the way to Indiana to get real Mexican food, as I have not yet found the perfect Mexican eatery in Boston. I have always enjoyed my time at La Esperanza, as the owner greets me with a hug and kiss on the cheek, making me feel at home. In the evenings, I visit my favorite priest-in-residence, Fr. Tom Blantz, CSC, --who as the university archivist keeps me engaged for hours in his wonderful storytelling of ND’s ins and outs— and attend Mass at the Basilica, a dorm Mass, if it is the fall, or ACE (the Alliance for Catholic Education) Mass during the summer. This time, my visit will also required me to do some work. I will meet with some of the admissions counselors at Notre Dame and the all-women’s college across the street, Saint Mary’s College; work on a video project for Chinese high school students; and produce a video for this site. My trip will re-energize me, will allow me to spend quality time with my friends in person, and will get me ready for my next stop this summer: New York City, where I will be with my aunt, uncle, and cousins visiting from Mexico. My hope is that you also get to visit different places this summer and that you travel with all of your heart while considering your next step in life. It is much more rewarding.