Sun, May 26, 2024

A weekend with friends: How did we get so lucky?”

I spent this past weekend in rainy, chilly, South Bend, Ind. However, the weather did very little to spoil my enjoyment. I was there to attend a football game between my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, and one of its greatest football rivals, the University of Southern California (USC). While Notre Dame (ND) clearly played its best game of the season, routing the Trojans 48-20, that was only one of the highlights of my weekend.

I was also able to spend the entire weekend with three close friends who matriculated at ND with me. We graduated together over forty years ago. We get to see each other periodically (e.g., they stayed at our house during the 2019 Masters), but I had not been back for a “guys’ weekend” at ND in a number of years.

While it was great to consume good food and drink and visit some of our old haunts, the highlight was having the chance to reflect on how much we all had both changed and remained the same in the more than 45 years since we met as freshmen. At the same time, I reflected upon two of my other ND classmates whom I group text with on a regular basis and how their lives have also had similarities to the four of us who spent the weekend together. When I look back on the lives of the six of us, in some ways, it is amazing that we were each able to attain a certain level of success from our fairly humble beginnings. However, with more reflection, I realized much of that success had its origins in those humble beginnings and was further aided by our Notre Dame experience. Hopefully, what I learned from this reflection can help us be better guides and role models for our children, grandchildren, and other young people around us.

As I indicated, most, if not all of the six of us came from humble beginnings. Most of our grandparents were immigrants who arrived in the country last decade of the 19th century or the first decade of the 20th century. Our grandfathers were tailors, steel workers, and laborers, whose primary goal was to make a better life for their families. Their work ethic was incredible and their example carried over to their children who continued to espouse the value of hard work.

In addition to their hard work, they demonstrated selflessness and humility throughout their lives to make things better not only for their families, but even though they did not have much, for the people around them who had less. My friends and I were lucky to have such role models, who worked hard, cared deeply for others, and were so humble that they thought there was nothing special about what they were doing. They were also faith-based people which helped them persevere during times of economic depression and war. As children, we did not know how lucky we were to have these people as our role models and leaders.

For most of the six of us, attending a college like Notre Dame was a dream. However, attempting to follow the work ethic of our parents and grandparents, we each earned scholarships to help pay for ND. Three of us were on Air Force ROTC scholarships, while the other three earned academic scholarships from ND and other sources. However, it was still a financial strain on most of our families to cover the balances that remained, but again the generations before us were driven by selflessness and sacrifice, doing without to make their families’ lives better.

While our families did most of the hard work to turn us into successful men, Notre Dame certainly played a role in our further development beyond just a great education. Being on a campus that promoted those same values of selflessness, humility, and faith helped instill strong values in us that we were unaware of at the time. Like many college students, we had a good time and probably drank more than we should have, but we were also being prepared to be solid citizens who made the communities we lived in better.

Over forty years later, two of the six are C-level executives, one is an orthopedic surgeon, one is a chemical engineer/consultant, and two of us are retired military officers who went on to successful second careers in government service and academia. Some have had unbelievable financial success and we all are way ahead financially from where our parents and grandparents were, and we all have had what we can consider successful careers. But, most importantly, I am proud of how my friends have been good people and shared their good fortune with many others philanthropically in a very humble way.

I think the lesson here for all of us is to share the important things you have learned in life with young people. You do not necessarily have to talk to them about it, but always try to demonstrate the importance of things like hard work, humility, selflessness, and faith. While we often complain about what is wrong with the world, we can do something about it by leading our young people in such a way, so they can make the world a better place.

At Notre Dame, we often talk about the luck of the Irish. But, for me and my friends, our luck came from having the right people around us to make us better. There is no better luck than that!

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