Encounters: A Moreau First Year Project

Encounters is a public archive of personal narratives from first-year students at Notre Dame. The project, born from the Moreau First Year Experience course, seeks to give voice to the first-year student experience, reflecting both the diversity and commonality within this year of transitions. The narratives offer life-giving responses to the challenges often cited by first-year university students, including experiences of imposter syndrome, loneliness, and unmet or inaccurate expectations of the transition to college life. In doing so, it celebrates students' vulnerability, courage, and authenticity in encountering the realities of brokenness, community, and hope. 

Read first-year students' reflection on Encounters below!

  • A5df5e90 A035 4f8f A9b3 6f481afc8231 Katherine Gottemoller

    Katherine Gottemoller

    Class Year: 2025

    Katherine Gottemoller

    Katherine Gottemoller

    Class Year: 2025

    Authentically ND: A First-Year Reflection

    Last summer, I sat in the back seat of my parent’s car as we drove by cream-colored buildings and Welcome Week committees of screaming students waving neon signs and excitedly running up and down the sidewalks of North Quad. I desperately wanted to freeze time so that I didn’t have to get out of the car, unpack my suitcases, and begin my new life. I didn’t know what I would encounter, but I didn’t think it could be more loving or accepting than my family. Here, I have encountered disappointed expectations, brokenness, and imperfection. I have experienced love, acceptance, and community. I have responded with varying emotions, but most importantly I have responded by embracing the challenge that was my first year. 

    I spent the majority of the first half of my first semester counting down the days until I would be back at home. What I did not realize is that the beginning of my fall break was accompanied by the release of midterm grades. When I finally built up the courage to look at my grades, I was disappointed. I had not expected to be challenged at Notre Dame and my grades reflected the fact that I was indeed being challenged. I realized that my expectations for perfection had robbed me of the opportunity to be proud of my accomplishments. From there, I made it my personal goal to avoid creating expectations and instead practice being proud of my accomplishments. 

    Some of the things that I encountered in my first semester were expected. I expected to be lonely and tired and homesick, but I wasn’t expecting to encounter brokenness. In my courses, we talked about the brokenness of the Catholic Church, American government, and the brokenness of generations of oppressed peoples. I felt weighed down by all this brokenness and pain, but I didn’t know how to identify the problem I was facing. During the first semester, our section pondered the theme of “encountering brokenness”. At Notre Dame, we face brokenness by embracing it and taking action to change it. Encountering brokenness in the beauty of Notre Dame was scary, but the realization that the world is better and stronger for being broken has taught me to see my life differently. 

    Not everything I encountered was negative. I also encountered success. I received unexpected good grades and made surprisingly good friendships and I learned that just as I share my defeats and disappointments with my community, I also must share my triumphs. I put this into practice by making a tradition of grabbing gelato from Hagerty Family Cafe after Psych exams with my friend Maria. Small traditions such as this have encouraged me to share my successes with my community at Notre Dame.

    Although I expected to encounter opposing opinions in college, I was confident that my anti-confrontational personality would help me to keep my distance from these conflicts. I was quickly proven wrong when I was challenged to write essays for Comparative Politics which accurately described the counterarguments to my beliefs. Notre Dame has followed in the tradition of Fr. Moreau who wrote, “It is simply essential for the next generation of Christians [..] to be conversant with modern theories and philosophies, even those they oppose.” Notre Dame taught me how to critically address those who disagree with me in the pursuit of truth.

    Encountering challenges, brokenness, success, and opposing opinions have all been part of my Notre Dame Journey. My Notre Dame community has driven me to share my successes and failures and challenged me to grapple with brokenness and conflicts.  Waking up every morning knowing that I am a part of this institution that defines nearly every aspect of my life has been exciting and daunting. As I look ahead to these next four years, I hope that they will provide me with a more complete understanding of how I relate to this place I call home: Notre Dame. 

  • Kaitlyn Leshak Kaitlyn Leshak

    Kaitlyn Leshak

    Class Year: 2025

    Kaitlyn Leshak

    Kaitlyn Leshak

    Class Year: 2025

    Brokenness to Belonging: The Power of the Notre Dame Community

    As of today, I have officially been a Notre Dame student for 101 days. While this is a relatively short amount of time, each of these days has been filled with knowledge, experience, and excitement. I have already learned a multitude of new and varied skills, from how to design and print a prosthetic device to how to properly analyze a film to how to do a touchdown push-up.

    More importantly, though, I have learned more about myself, who I am, and why I belong here at Notre Dame, through the experiences I have found here on campus and specifically, my Moreau First Year Experience class. However, I had no such sense of clarity and belonging at the beginning of my college experience. I found myself constantly wondering whether I belonged at Notre Dame and if I was worthy of my spot at this university, but my imposter syndrome was always cast aside by the wonderful people that I am surrounded with every day. I have found that Notre Dame’s community revolves around one fundamental principle: love. There is an atmosphere of love of neighbor, love of Notre Dame, love of learning here at Notre Dame, and that is the very thing that makes us a force for good in this world. It is not a coincidence that this place promotes love, as our President, Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. once said, “Love is the greatest commandment - and hatred is at the heart of the greatest sins” (“Wesley Theological Seminary 2012 Commencement Address” by Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. - Moreau FYE Week Ten). In his commencement address, part of the week ten material, Father Jenkins explains that we can change the world for the better when we use love to form convictions. He goes on to say, “It [conviction] is indispensable to every good deed...without conviction, there would be no hope”(“Wesley Theological Seminary 2012 Commencement Address” by Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. - Moreau FYE Week Ten).

    We live in a broken world, and the love and convictions found in the Notre Dame community have the power to heal it. In truth, we are all broken to some extent, but at this university, we acknowledge and accept our brokenness in order to move forward.  Instead of continuing to wonder where our places in this campus community are, we actively search for them. Personally, I joined the Notre Dame Wishmakers, our university’s branch of the Make-a-Wish organization, was elected as a commissioner-in-training in my residence hall, and became involved in e-NABLE, a club that 3D prints prosthetic devices and donates them to children in need. I even found myself on the stage performing in a cabaret.

    Finally, something that had been very ambiguous to me had been made clear. “Who am I?” was a question I had been avoiding, but it needed to be asked in order to find the answer. 

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    Eddie Mayor

    Class Year: 2025

    Eddie Mayor

    Eddie Mayor

    Class Year: 2025

    Grow as I Go

    The Notre Dame experience has undoubtedly transformed my mind and heart. The encounters I have daily teach me how to be a better man. Being at Notre Dame has helped me understand that change is inevitable, and there is no weakness in altering your beliefs. Because I know this, I am constantly evolving. My values change after a deep interaction; my beliefs change after a stirring sermon; my opinions change after a riveting book. I am a mosaic of everyone and thing I have encountered. These encounters have helped me learn how to be an ally to underrepresented minorities. During the Black Lives Matter protests, I often wondered how I – a Caucasian teenager – could make a difference. I knew I was not racist, but I also knew that was not enough. Christopher J. Devron wrote, “White people don’t get a moral pass by simply refraining from overtly racist acts. Rather, they must examine racial biases within systems; reflect on how they participate in and benefit from these biases, and then take deliberate action to change them.” The first step to making a difference is recognizing privilege. It is my responsibility to understand intimately that I have benefited from the system that was designed by white people. I then need to help others realize this as well. I need to examine implicit biases that cross my mind and correct them. Correcting others’ implicit biases is just as important – even if it means having awkward conversations. It is my moral responsibility to continue to educate myself and others on how to be an ally to underrepresented minorities.

    Since the start of my journey here at Notre Dame, my appreciation for self-confidence and growth has increased considerably. When I was initially accepted into Notre Dame, I experienced severe imposter syndrome. This feeling of unworthiness intensified once I arrived on campus. I constantly compared myself to my classmates and wondered why I was chosen to study with the world’s most spiritually and emotionally curious students. After researching and discussing imposter syndrome with my classmates in Moreau, I discovered that almost every student feels undeserving occasionally; yet, discussion on the topic is taboo in academia. It was not until I completed the week nine writing activity that I realized how important confidence is. Mental health advocate Julia Hogan has recently said that the only expectations we should strive to meet are our own. Not only does she emphasize the toxicity of self-comparison, but she also highlights the importance of grit. A tactic I use to combat imposter syndrome is self-affirmations. Whenever I fall victim to imposter syndrome’s effects, I walk to the Grotto and pray. On my journey from Duncan Hall to the Grotto, I indulge in the campus’s captivating beauty. I appreciate the basilica’s gothic architecture and admire the dome’s overwhelming historical significance. Each time, I am reminded that I have a purpose here at Notre Dame, and it truly is my home under the dome. 
     

     

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    Chizoma Duru

    Class Year: 2025

    Chizoma Duru

    Chizoma Duru

    Class Year: 2025

    Caution: Area Under Construction

    Starting this new journey under the dome, what did I expect? Well, I expected to waltz into a new environment and fit in seamlessly with the culture. I anticipated having best friends by at least the first month and possessing the ability to juggle the pressures of university life as well as the characters I always watched on television shows. It was a great surprise when I found out that the movies about college students “living their best lives” weren’t as rosy, off-screen. 

    I was here, constantly finding it taxing to break the ice past conversations of “What’s your name, where are you from, what’s your major”. I struggled to find a safe space with people that I could run to when times were tough. I pondered about the possibility of always being alone here, eventually drifting from my friends back home because of different realities, and having no one but my thoughts to keep me company. I was in a constant battle with myself, my differences, and anything else I could blame for my difficult adjustment. I soon realized that I needed to take a step back from the noise, and take in the beauty that Notre Dame had to offer.

    Due to the numerous sources we engaged within our Moreau classes, from “Encountering Brokenness” to “Advice from a Lonely College student”, I was able to come to terms with the fact that a sense of home is not discovered in a month, a day or an hour. Home is built. The most conscious decision I made was to be patient with myself. I started going to more events, participating in extra-curriculars, and as organically as possible I began to build. I started to gain rhythm in a routine with work, a social life, as well as clubs and societies. I started constructing a home.
    Additionally, these modules helped me realize that in my Notre Dame story, I needed to be no one, but myself. They aided in my navigation towards a positive way to lead my life as a black Nigerian woman in a predominantly white institution. They reminded me that I was different, and that wasn’t a bad thing. They taught me to be unapologetic about the beautiful things such as my accent, my culture, my nationality and so on, which made me unique. Instead of feeling insecure about the way I spoke, the experiences I was used to, and my perspectives on issues, I brought them to the table to contribute to the myriad of diverse perspectives that make Notre Dame, Notre Dame. I engaged in multicultural activities where people could discover the world through my eyes, and I could learn more through theirs. 
    My life now? Well, I would describe it as a work in progress. I continue to build, grow and thrive. With me, as my own main character, I continue to gather the bricks, cement, and everything needed to construct a beautiful home, under the dome.
     

     

  • Paul Capelli Paul Capelli

    Paul Capelli

    Class Year: 2025

    Paul Capelli

    Paul Capelli

    Class Year: 2025

    Meeting Notre Dame

    My first semester has been fast and full here at Notre Dame. Four things that I have especially encountered are beauty, great challenge, the image of God, and sincere charity.

    Part 1: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard”

    What glorious beauty! Experience His resplendent Creation in the natural environment: from the swans and ducks on St. Mary’s Lake—tending to their feathers, swimming slowly, and sleeping on the coast within themselves—to the familiar stars in the night sky. The benches at the Grotto, as the seasons permitted, were flanked by floral bounty—and wasn’t it nourishing? Finally, I remember dramatic fall sunsets; turn, walk, and see how the Basilica of the Sacred Heart basks in the red-orange rays.
    My first semester has been beautiful. As a result, my sense of wonder and gratitude have received much cultivation.

    Part 2: Ave Crux

    Moments during this first semester have been challenging—on occasion to the point of sorrow. I am still struck by how much my professors and choir director attentively expected of me: very, very much! So many people saw such real potential in me and were willing to call me to realize it. They saw more in me than I did. In a sense, I felt deeply trusted to persevere. So as all this called forth from me wonderful works and writings, I can begin to understand Blessed Basil Moreau when he describes the cross as “a treasure more valuable than gold and precious stones.”

    Part 3: “You have the words of eternal life.”

    I have encountered many people: at least of different races, ethnicities, cities, states, countries, sexual orientations, religious beliefs, high schools, gender identities, and family sizes. 
    And I have witnessed people with differences find stupendously deep unity as one Body of Christ Jesus. In the diversity is the image of God illumined, and it’s sublime and brilliant.

    Part 4: “No longer I, but Christ lives in me

    I have had radiant models of joyful charity in my first semester. They are the staff at South Dining Hall and North Dining Hall. They are the janitorial staff, especially Miss Cathy at Carroll Hall. They are members of the groundskeeping staff, outside with leaf-blowers and lawn-mowers. They help me check out books at Hesburgh. They are my RAs, who invest time in getting to know me. They are my Rector and my Assistant Rectors, who drove me to and from the hospital and waited while I picked up my prescriptions, after ten o’clock at night.
    I am loved here. I can learn how to love here. And as for repaying these role models, should I have had the rest of my life to sufficiently do it, I still couldn’t.

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    Meghan McNelis

    Class Year: 2025

    Meghan McNelis

    Meghan McNelis

    Class Year: 2025

    Woven into Community

    Over the course of my first semester on campus, I discover a new part of the University that I have not previously borne witness to each day. Here, I have become an integral player in a special community. 

    As a first-year, I struggle with many self-doubts about my academic abilities and performance. In talking with my peers, especially those in Moreau, I realize I am not alone. In a Grotto article, Julia Hogan encourages shifting one’s outlook on life: “Instead of letting your life be ruled by the expectations of others or your own expectation that you have to be perfect, what if you just did your best?”  I try to tackle each day with this mentality. Perfection is not expected; all that is expected is that I try my best. Notre Dame continually reinforces this mindset. 

    Reverend Jenkins articulates the importance of understanding the impacts of one’s actions in his address to Wesley Theological Seminary graduates, “We cannot pretend to stand outside this. We are woven into it.” The people I have encountered take up this call to action. At Notre Dame, the gifts and talents of each person are cherished and celebrated, and our community is richer because of it. In C.S. Lewis’ religious satire, “The Screwtape Letters” he writes from the devil’s view of God and says, “the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.” Working with a group this semester to design a valve in my engineering class, I found that each member of my group had her own strengths and talents. We each used our gifts to encourage each other to think differently and push us to do our best work. I saw that by coming together and utilizing our specific talents, we were able to produce the best results. The Notre Dame community loves the individuality of each student, just as God loves the differences that make us who we are. 

    In my early days on campus, I immediately sensed that I had entered a unique community, but as I conclude my first semester here, I realize that it is a community characterized by love for one another that sets it apart. Members support and care for each other–“Community begins not externally but in the recesses of the human heart.” (Palmer, Year).  I have witnessed this in my own dorm as my fellow residents come together to celebrate mass and mingle together in our lounge afterward–or when we rely upon our dorm community for support and care.  This is what makes Notre Dame home. 

    As a first-year, I have experienced self-doubts, but I am confident that I will be okay. I will continue to open my heart to others. I will regularly check in on my friends. I will engage with the women I live with in the hallways and dorm masses. I will cheer on and support my friends at their activities and campus events. And I will seek help on campus when I need it, whether it be engaging tutors or seeking counsel from advisors. I have encountered new challenges at Notre Dame, but I am confident that I am a vital part of its very fabric.

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    Quinn McKenna

    Class Year: 2024

    Quinn McKenna

    Quinn McKenna

    Class Year: 2024

    Encountering Moreau: A Letter to the Class of 2026

    Dear newest classmates, 

    My name is Quinn McKenna. I am a rising senior in the Program of Liberal Studies in the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame. I’m also pursuing minors in the Education, Schooling, and Society program and International Development. I’m a native of North Palm Beach, Florida and a member of the Farley Hall community here on campus. 
    Today, I will attempt to give you some advice about the Moreau course based on my own experience in the class. I want to begin with the importance of paying attention to the material in order to glean the most from the course. There really is a lot to be taken from these classes.. Moreau is truly what you make of it, and if you do not do the readings or do not participate in class, you will get significantly less out of the course than if you take the relatively small amount of time required to complete the assignments thoughtfully and truly engage with the student sitting next to you. 

    Therefore, I really do encourage each of you to read the course material thoroughly and participate actively in class, for Moreau holds so much potential to really help students and impact our first year of college. These assignments do not take a long time, and you will remember certain things you read and discuss in Moreau throughout your whole college career. 

    The second thing I want to discuss is the relationship you build with your Moreau Instructor. I’m going to do so by giving a short personal story, but I want to preface by saying I would not wish the events of this story upon my worst enemy, let alone all of you.

    But anyway, let’s rewind to the first semester of my first-year at Notre Dame. I was in a class called Finite Mathematics, and let’s just say this is the math class offered to primarily Arts and Letters Students so they can get their math credit out of the way. Also, side note, an important thing to recognize here is that I am REALLY not a math person. But so anyway, I didn’t do too well on the first exam, and then the second one rolls around and I study really hard, sure of the fact that this would be the exam that brings upmy grade. 
    But come the day of the exam, I woke up at 8:05 am and quickly realized I had slept through the first hour of my exam. I had slept through the first hour of my exam. So, naturally, I started freaking out. I was a nervous wreck, and I had my Moreau class shortly after this fiasco, but I knew I had to go anyway. I got to class and was clearly distraught, so I asked my professor if I could talk to her about the situation to see what I should do. So we stepped outside, and I was almost in tears, well actually, I was definitely crying, but something really special came from this encounter. 

    My Moreau professor (shoutout to Kathy Brannock) took the time to sit down with me, ask me what was wrong, and tell me everything would be okay. Hearing from a teacher that this was not the end of the world meant more to me than I can even describe, and having someone there to calm me down helped me immensely. The reason I felt okay coming to her was because of the relationship we had and the comfort she made me feel. All Moreau Instructors have the capacity to have these relationships with their students, so I strongly encourage all of you to be present in class and take advantage of these incredible potential relationships. Go to office hours. Get to know your instructors. Open up to them about yourself. These people can be such strong resources in ways you wouldn’t even imagine. 

    Lastly, I want to talk to you guys about your classmates. While they may not end up being your best friends, there really is a special bond formed in these classes. I wouldn’t necessarily consider the people I was with first semester of Moreau as close friends of mine, but whenever I’m out and about and see one of them, there’s this mutual understanding and it’s like, “oh, hey, yeah! You were in my Moreau class!! How’s it been?”

    I think this kind of lasting relationship is made possible by the ways in which the Moreau course invites authenticity and creates a space of shared vulnerability in conversation. I don’t even exactly know what it is, but the people in my first semester Moreau class probably know more about me than some friends I have, and I think that’s a relatively common experience. We talk about our dreams, our anxieties, our frustrations… and we discuss important issues like racism, sexism, sexual assault, and being a bystander while witnessing difficult situations. Having discussions about these topics truly does create a certain bond, and this is only because we know it is a safe space to do so. Therefore, I strongly urge you to open yourself up to the possibility of forming these Moreau friendships. These friendships are distinct and can help you embrace and navigate some of the most central questions that will undoubtedly arise during your four years at ND. that are different from any friendships you will have in your four years here. 

    I'll finish this short letter with a few final thoughts. I absolutely could not be more excited for you all, and I wish you the best of luck! This summer is pretty crazy and busy, I know. But I urge you to trust that these next few years will be filled with so many beautiful friendships, experiences, and memories. I hope you find in Moreau all that I found. And, just remember: engage with the texts authentically, complete the assignments thoughtfully, form relationships with your professors, and be as vulnerable as you can with classmates. Then, you will be empowered to recognize and experience Moreau for the gift that it can be. 

  • Frassati Headshot

    Bobby Fitzpatrick

    Class Year: 2024

    Bobby Fitzpatrick

    Bobby Fitzpatrick

    Class Year: 2024

    Encountering Courage and Vulnerability: A Letter to the Class of 2026

    Dear first-year students,

    As a fellow student, I’m excited to welcome you all to the University of Notre Dame. I’m excited to welcome you home. 
    As the rest of summer glides by, take in little moments each day and continue to do so when you arrive on campus. Recognize that you are all in a unique spot both mentally and physically. Never before have you been faced with the challenges you are facing now. You all will soon adjust to new living spaces, new friends, and new academic life. Be mindful of that, and if you can, appreciate it.

    One unique thing about the Moreau First Year Experience that I didn't necessarily get from high school is direct applications to my life. I found time and time again that what we just learned in Moreau classes comes alive through the normal experiences of a college student.
    I remember freshman year we had covered some material on the importance of being vulnerable in a community. Brené Brown refers to this as “the courage to be imperfect.” So I spent the week thinking of how I can be vulnerable in the context of Moreau FYE, in my friendships, in my spiritual life. That following Sunday, I’m sitting in Alumni Hall’s dawg mass at 9:00 pm. In Alumni Hall we are blessed to have Fr. Gerry Olinger as one of our Priests in Residence. As I am listening to Fr. Gerry give his homily, he sheds a religious light on this topic of vulnerability as it relates to the Gospel reading. He suggested that being vulnerable enough to acknowledge and accept our whole selves is a necessity in your religious life because it allows us to accept the love God has for our full selves despite faults and flaws. 

    So here I am, having read the material for Moreau and letting it bounce around in the back of my mind while rushing around from class to class to event. I sit down for a second and breathe, participating in mass, listening to Fr. Gerry preach, and here is this concept of vulnerability from Moreau, but in a new light. And I loved that. I love the intersectionality that links material from different classes and to your own life.

    If there’s anything I can give you going forward I would offer you these two things. 

    Be vulnerable. It causes a sense of personal liberation, but it also tosses a stone out into the lake. And when that stone hits the lake: it brings that ripple of vulnerability, making other people around you feel more safe and comfortable.

    I also ask that you seek to understand the other side. In Moreau, I was granted the opportunity to listen to and speak with people who directly opposed me on certain topics but I got to hear where they are coming from, what specific history has shaped their point of view, and that’s another beautiful thing. Being able to truly listen to someone with an opposing viewpoint gives you a valuable perspective and a sense of understanding between both of you. 

    In my Moreau class, one of the first things we did was write 6-word poems. It was just a small activity where you talk about using virtues, feeling safe, the common good, etc. When asked to share, my friend McKenzie said, “We use our power to empower.” Now that's a powerful sentence, isn’t it? It has the word power in it not once, but twice! But really. A prerequisite to empowering people in our community is exposing ourselves and being vulnerable with members of the community. To empower people you also have to seek to understand them.

    So, Class of 2026 in your Moreau class and in all situations this year, have the courage to be vulnerable. Through compassion and curiosity, seek to understand those around you. Step into this new year and bring your full self with you. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and I wish you the best of luck in your first year!


    Thoughtfully,
    Robert Fitzpatrick