This morning I am writing to you from the Delta lounge at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Considering the time zone difference, I’m guessing many of you are not yet awake. I awoke this morning at around 5 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time in South Bend, Indiana, in time to catch my hotel shuttle to the airport for an early-morning flight. Considering the brain fog that accompanies jet lag, and the swirling emotions of what has happened in my life over the past few days, I am not certain the magnitude of this week has fully set in. When I return to Arizona, I will arrive a graduate of the University of Notre Dame.
When I was a young boy, I attended Catholic schools and I loved football. As is true for many young boys who attend Catholic schools and enjoy football, I became enamored with Notre Dame. It seemed almost mystical. The school is steeped in tradition and lore. Its football program had won 11 national championships, seven Heisman Trophies, and more All-America athletes than any other college program. Its games were also on national television every single week and the Fighting Irish earned a tremendous national following. Its band plays the most well-known fight song of any American university. These are incredible accomplishments, considering the student body is relatively small and the school is located in rural Indiana. The nearest city of any notable size is Chicago, which is about a two-hour drive from South Bend.
Along with its prestigious athletics program, Notre Dame is well-known internationally as one of the top universities in the United States. Statistically, fewer than 20% of applicants are accepted at Notre Dame every year. When I was in high school, I was a good student, but I didn’t believe I was a great student. As much as I wanted to go to Notre Dame, I decided that I could not handle the heartache of applying and being turned away. When it was time for me to apply for college, I never even submitted an application to Notre Dame. This became one of the biggest regrets of my life.
Fast forward some 15 years, I was now an Episcopalian seeking holy orders, studying at a seminary in Berkeley, California. Two of my liturgics professors had ties to Notre Dame. The Rev. Dr. Lizette Larson-Miller had served as a liturgy professor at Notre Dame prior to moving to Berkeley, while the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers had earned her liturgy Ph.D. there. They both encouraged me to alleviate my regrets by continuing graduate studies in theology at Notre Dame. My self-doubt again attempted to sideline me. Negative self-talk tried to tell me, if I’m not smart enough for Notre Dame as an undergraduate, I’m certainly not smart enough to attend graduate school there. But I put the pedal to the metal. I focused on getting the best grades I possibly could and tried to make myself the best candidate possible. I decided that I needed to at least apply. If I applied and was turned away, I knew I would be sad but I would at least eliminate regret. When the time came, I applied and was accepted.
Studying at Notre Dame has been one of the blessings of my life. Graduating from Notre Dame still feels surreal. I’m sure it will for quite some time. Some of that negative self-talk still tries to creep into my head and tell me it didn’t happen. But you know what? It did happen. On June 22, 2022, I graduated from Notre Dame. Because of the way the academic calendar works, my actual graduation ceremony won’t be until next May. We did have a small reception, complete with evening prayer vespers, to celebrate everyone who completed the program. At 40 years old and with rapidly-graying hair, I became a Notre Dame alumnus. I know I didn’t do it all on my own. I know my loving wife, Brandy, my professors, my classmates, my colleagues, and each and every one of you cheered me on and encouraged me. I couldn’t have done it without you.
Do you have self-doubts that keep you from pursuing your dreams in life? Do you ever feel like it’s too late to make up for regrets? Have you ever convinced yourself that you shouldn’t even try something, or listened to someone when they told you that you could never achieve it? I’m guessing it’s probably not that uncommon. Society is not very kind when it comes to failures. But here’s the thing. We learn by failures, not by successes. If we try something hard, and it doesn’t work out, then we have chances to correct things that didn’t go well. We can tweak it until we get it right. My failures do not define me. And in fairness, neither do my successes. But failure has led to success more often than it has led to continued failure. Don’t give up on your dreams. It isn’t too late. If something in life is important to you, keep pursuing it. Surround yourself with people who raise you up and cheer you on. Don’t listen to negative self-talk. Maybe a lifelong dream will come true! And even if it doesn’t, you are certain to continue to learn and to grow in the process.