Saturday, March 26, 2022

When Choosing Your College: Consider this Lesson from a Looper

This is much more than a story of a golfer and his caddie. As I sit down to write, I am acutely aware that it's that time of year again. For the next few weeks we will be scratching our heads wondering how, why and why not. We will do our best to consider what went right and what not wrong, but what was missing. No, I'm not talking about March Madness, although said comments and questions apply. It's admissions season, which means colleges are sending their decisions—yay, nay and maybe. For some students, a decision has been made for them. Others have options. Like any important decision, there is much to discern and important questions to answer, such as: What do I want to study? How much can I afford? Where do I want to live? And who do I want to be? 

I believe one of the best places to find an answer amongst the students in attendance at a college you are considering. Seek to find out: Who are they? What do they value? And how is the university shaping, challenging, assisting,  forming and informing them? 

Another place is among the alumni. The spiritual life speaks about the "fruit" of one's labor—or the practice of faith. The "fruit" of a school community are the men and women who have lived on campus, graduated and moved on. Talk to them. What themes and threads emerge in common? Who are they at both their best and their worst? I imagine the truth is somewhere in the middle.

For those considering the University of Notre Dame, it's true—you won't have any trouble finding an alum eager to share his or her experience. Many of us love nothing more than to talk about our alma mater...but that's not true for everyone. At our worst, Domers are annoying and in your face. I'll keep this brief as I don't think it fair to say much more. However, at our best, ND alumni are what Father Sorin hoped we would be: a force for good. We are loyal and loving, smart and passionate people. I'll keep that brief, too.

But something you might not know about Notre Dame alumni is that we are storytellers. It's those Irish roots and that Catholic heritage. We love the fight—whether is be on the gridiron on Saturday, the hardwood on Sunday or in providing answers to that question: "What would you fight for?" And yes, what though the odds be great or small—we love to defy expectations and assumptions.

Therefore, as I was reading "A Course Called America" by a great alumni storyteller, Tom Coyne '97, I couldn't help but pause after reading about his caddie at North Shore Country Club, Jackson Wrede '18. To me—Jackson is the perfect profile of Notre Dame alum as I've described here. Coyne writes, 

Four days later, I would meet another caddie full of surprises in Chicago. North Shore was a level layout by the prestigious design firm of Colt, Mackenzie, and Alison and had hosted the U.S. Open in 1933, when Johnny Goodman became the last amateur to ever lift the trophy. Today the club was a Catholic golf haven (I was surprised to find that Chicago’s private clubs remained organized along religious lines), and it seemed as if half the membership was there to welcome a fellow Notre Dame alum to the course, including my caddie who are just graduated that spring. 

Jackson was looping his way through graduate school, and by the look of him he was pursuing a master's in the bench press. He was a block of a dude, with a chiseled jaw and thick brown hair with a careful part. He had to roll up your sleeves to let his biceps breathe, and his shoulders were like side tables on which he rested two bag straps. I don’t think he put down our bags once the entire around; I doubted whether he noticed they were even there.

I wondered aloud if he had played football at Notre Dame, and he explained that no, he had been a boxer. Notre Dame’s boxing club had been around for 90 years and was one of the campus is more celebrated intermurals. Jackson had been it’s captain. God bless your sparring partners I thought. I asked him what he was studying in grad school, and when he said fine arts, I checked my ears and asked him to say that again.

"I’m doing a master of fine arts. I’m a painter," he said. "Wait a second. I have a master of fine arts. You don’t look like any MFA student I’ve ever seen."

He laughed and showed me some of his work on his phone. He specialized in pop art paintings, and his oil-on-canvas collages were good—outstanding really. I looked forward to adding one to my art collection. Well, I looked forward to starting an art collection, with some work for my friend Jackson Wrede, the caddie–painter–pugilist.

Perhaps you would think a blog on Sports and Spirituality should also reveal that Jackson has also considered a vocation to the priesthood or that I met him while he did his six-week summer service project working at St. Anthony's in the Tenderloin. Yes, I would love to that to be true but that's not what this story reveals. Furthermore, that's missing a bigger point.

This story—a shared experience between two alumni—speaks to me of what saying "yes" to a school like Notre Dame means. For those who are not sure that it's the school for you, I can offer but one more example. The relationship is one that does not end upon graduation, unless you prefer otherwise. It means that you will study, learn and live among people who will surprise you, who will impress you, and a whole lot of people ready and willing to share their gifts and talents with you. In this case, I came to find out Jackson did send Tom one of his paintings. And Tom, promoted Jackson's work among his many followers.  

Universities and colleges say "yes" to students they hope are a good fit. They accept men and women who will support the mission and thrive in their academic environment. And students who say "yes" to a specific school have those opportunities and many more.... so the story goes!

Best of luck to the Class of 2022 in your next step!

Photo Credits
Alumni Spotlight
Force for Good

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