She became known as “The Girl Who was Always There.”
Bright red hair, funky “Urkel” glasses made her hard to miss. She set up her books and laptop on a table just outside the Dean’s Office, a spot that’s a bit on the isolated side, away from the more usual study areas in the lower level of the College.
And she was always there. No matter how early I came in, she beat me. Often she was plugging away reading text on her monitor, taking notes on her iPad, even as offices were closing, the light outside fading already on these early spring evenings.
“Hi,” I finally said to her one morning. “You are always here!”
So, not the smoothest introduction. In fact, she looked pretty startled. But we began to chat and Mary Kate Kearney explained that she was studying for the CPA exam. She had passed three parts, with the fourth scheduled for early April; hence, she was parked at her spot on the Friday night before spring break rather than heading home to Connecticut or out to more exotic locales.
Over the next few weeks, several of us in the Dean’s Office stopped to chat with her and find out how the studying was going. We passed along the news when she passed the fourth part of the exam. She laughed when I told her we were now invested in her story.
She still manned her table as finals approached, but not as often. And now, of course, Mary Kate has graduated and gone on to the next phase of her life.
This story doesn’t have any drama or deep meaning. Except this: Mary Kate is a reminder of how easy it is to become so busy that even the people you’re here to support become part of the backdrop. I sometimes glance at the windows of the dorms, or watch from my office students crossing the sidewalks in the quad below, and wonder at their lives. It’s easy to lump them into an anonymous mass, because for many of us at Notre Dame, our jobs don’t involve direct interaction with students on a regular basis.
But what a loss if we—staff, faculty, alums—don’t realize that an enduring gift of being part of Notre Dame is the opportunity to enter these young students’ lives, even if the encounter is brief. They may be smart as all get out, and have amazing futures ahead. But I venture to guess that there’s not one among them who doesn’t appreciate a gesture of support.
Just before the end of the semester, I found a note tied with a gold ribbon to a Baggie full of homemade granola in my mailbox. “Thank you so much for your kindness during my time at Mendoza,” Mary Kate’s message began.
“I will certainly treasure my memories from Notre Dame, with the Dean’s Office holding a special place in my memory,” she concluded.
Good luck, Mary Kate and all the 2013 Mendoza College graduates. Stay in touch. Remember, we’re invested in you.