Reflection: Notre Dame remains true to its mission in all times

Sunrise behind campus skyline (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

2012 Presidential Award Sharon V
Sharon Hawkins

As I think about the pandemic that the world is dealing with, I can’t help but think back to Sept. 11, 2001. I  remember exactly where I was that morning when I first heard about the attack on the World Trade Center. I was driving to work and was at the corner of Campeau and Eddy streets. I was listening to the Tom Joyner Morning Show, and he announced that a plane had flown into one of the towers. I remember thinking it was a joke and I didn’t find it to be funny.

As I looked to my left, I noticed that I was next to the church I attended at the time, the church my dad was pastoring. I looked up and saw the cross on the church steeple. I remember acknowledging God’s presence and driving on. 

When I got to the office I learned that it was not a terrible joke. During the weeks that followed, life was pretty crazy. There were a lot of unknowns and, in Human Resources, there were a lot of meetings to prepare for possible economic ramifications of that attack. Rev. Edward “Monk” Malloy, C.S.C., the University president, rose to the occasion and guided us through that difficult time. 

We heard a consistent message: Notre Dame was in a better position because of the financial philosophy that President Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., and Executive Vice President Rev. Edmund Joyce, C.S.C., had put in place during their tenure. 

I was grateful for the decisions that had helped us minimize the impact on the University and wanted to thank them. Father Joyce had passed away years earlier, but I was able to meet with Father Ted. Our conversation is one of my fondest memories. 

Years ago, Rev. Bill Lies, C.S.C., then-vice president for mission engagement and Church affairs, gave a presentation during one of our HR department meetings. His talk was about founder Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., and his vision for the University. I was amazed at how Notre Dame continues to live out that vision. I continue to see those  values in our leadership during this time. President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., like leaders before him, has demonstrated and set the expectation of how we will persevere and get through any difficult time, like this one, in true Notre Dame fashion, with a defined and common purpose. 

What is it that keeps us going and optimistic about the future when things are so very difficult? Some might call it the Fighting Irish spirit; others might say it’s the Holy Cross charisma As someone who has worked at Notre Dame for 21 years, I can only explain it as the University’s foundation of values, with God at the core, and its defined purpose to be a force for good in the world that helps us navigate even these uncharted waters. 

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Pictured above is the Human Resource Consultant team during a recent Zoom meeting.

Buried within what seems to be an ocean of negativity are gems of hope and goodness. This virus has not allowed us much time to figure things out, so we have to jump in.  I am fortunate to have the support of the human resources consultants (HRC) team to lean on. Our daily Zoom meetings keep us connected and allow us to talk through whatever the day brings.

I can’t help but think, what if this pandemic had occurred 10 years ago? At that time, we didn’t have the Wellness Center to call on for guidance and support. The good news is, we do now, thanks to the forethought of leadership, including Bob McQuade, vice president for human resources, and Denise Murphy, director of benefits and compensation, who were instrumental in establishing that facility. Wellness Center staff have been a tremendous support to HR as we maneuver through this pandemic. To name one, Melanie Smith has responded to every medical related question, day or night, even attending a 10 p.m. meeting on one occasion. 

And there are so many others who have responded in Notre Dame fashion, to help where help is needed. 

In Building Services, an area I support as an HRC, director Chris Hatfield and Jeff Edgerly reviewed safety protocols for their staff, more than 300 employees, to make sure the workers would be safe as they sanitized campus for all of us. 

About four weeks ago, Rev. Jim Bracke, C.S.C., staff chaplain, asked if I knew of an employee who needed assistance during this difficult time. He explained that someone had reached out to him seeking to help someone in need. My HRC colleague Sandra Garcia knew of an employee who had not only recently lost her mother, but was also hospitalized days later. This staff member had been recently hired at Notre Dame and hadn't gotten to setting up direct deposit when she became ill. She had shared she had a zero balance. Father Bracke was able to get help for the employee.

As we look back at this time, I pray that we don’t forget what we’ve experienced, the relationships we’ve formed, the understanding and respect for differences that have been enhanced through collaboration between divisions and, most of all, how the University family has demonstrated and carried on the vision of Father Sorin. 

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Bottom right is Mike Seamon and his direct reports, including Sharon Hawkins, upper left.

Let’s not forget to take a moment to laugh. I’ve had moments during this time when I have cried from sheer emotions and times when my colleagues have made me cry. I share this picture of a well-orchestrated direct reports meeting with Vice President for Campus Safety and University Operations Mike Seamon where the direct reports decided to set our Zoom backgrounds to be Mike’s office. Mike was surprised to find us virtually in his office. In those moments we have the ability to let go of all of the negativity and exhale for a moment.

I know that we will have many more moments like this as we continue to support Our Lady’s University.