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Five Foot Nothing: Belonging

Sep 2, 2013, 10:38 AM EDT

Lauren Chval (bottom left) at the Notre Dame-Temple pep rally with friends.

Lauren Chval graduated from Notre Dame last May. She will be chronicling the 2013 season as a first-time alumnus. You can follow her on Twitter at @lchval or check out her blog Image Moved about all things athletics and entertainment.

“Are you a student?”

“Yes.”

I lied to the Recker’s cashier this weekend. I didn’t mean to! It just slipped out. He only wanted to know if he should apply the student discount to my muffin and strawberry banana smoothie, but his question basically captured my mental state for the entire weekend.

I am not a student, despite what I said to the Recker’s cashier. But that’s not exactly how I felt when I stepped back onto campus this weekend.

When it was time for dinner, there was my dining hall. At the pep rally, there was the group of girls from my dorm. There were my classes in DeBartolo and DPAC, with professors just waiting to teach me.

It would be so easy to slip in and join them. No one would ever know I didn’t belong anymore.

Even though I didn’t belong in the dining hall, or in those familiar classrooms, I felt as though I still belonged at Notre Dame.

And that led me to ponder the other question of this weekend—who does Notre Dame belong to? When I was a student, the alumni always felt so important to me. So many decisions about Notre Dame were made by and for them. But now that I’m an alumnus, I can’t help but realize that, of course, it’s all about the students.

The night before the Temple game, my dad sent my brother and me a text:

“It occurs to me that tomorrow will be the first time either of you has attended a game at Notre Dame Stadium without me being there. I guess Notre Dame now ‘belongs’ to you. Have fun. I love you.”

My dad has only missed a handful of Notre Dame home games since he graduated back in 1981. He’s the most diehard Notre Dame supporter I know, and if the school can “belong” to anyone, it belongs to him and those like him.

There was no stranger feeling than watching from across the Stadium as the student section cheered on my team without me. Sure, I was there. But I wasn’t there. The team wasn’t pointing at me at the end of the alma mater.

So maybe I don’t belong in the student section. Maybe I don’t belong in Cavanaugh or in the classrooms in DeBartolo. I definitely need to start paying full price at Recker’s. But I still belong at Notre Dame, just like my dad.

I will always remember Temple, not because it was a spectacular game, but because it was my first game as an alum. And sometimes I felt sad and nostalgic and like I was going to throw up, but mostly, I just felt like I was at home.

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