I had never in my life heard of Tom Thornton before this morning, when some news stories about him started popping up on the web. But Tom Thornton and the thousands like him are why I am so proud to be a Domer.
Who the heck is Tom Thornton? Tom Thornton is (was) a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame. Student. Athlete. Not an athlete masquerading as a student in order to barely maintain his eligibility. But a true student, working hard in the classroom (and outside the classroom), to get a world-class education as well as a degree. And a pretty good athlete on the side, elected as a co-captain of the baseball team by his teammates in his senior year and compiling a 7-3 record in 15 pitching starts his final season last Spring. Tom was drafted by the Detroit Tigers last June in the 21st round, and right now is working hard in the Can-Am league trying to make it to the Big Leagues.
So what has Tom Thornton been up to lately? Working on his slider, perhaps? Well, no. Tom just returned from Nairobi where he has been working on a research grant trying to learn more about the earliest use of fire by man, over a million years ago. Putting his anthropology degree to work.
For too many fans of the Fighting Irish, it's all about the football team. How good is our coach? How many games are we going to win? Can I get tickets to the game? But football is only a piece of the puzzle at Notre Dame. It's a high profile piece, an important piece, but only one piece. Another piece of that puzzle is Notre Dame's Catholic character. And Tom Thornton is another piece. Notre Dame is one of those rare Division I colleges that both preaches and practices the concept of the true student-athlete. Notre Dame recruits athletes who were successful and committed students in high school, and then when they arrive at the University, Notre Dame expects those student-athletes to work as hard in the classroom as on the field to earn their degrees. Real degrees. Like degrees in anthropology.
Yet again this year Notre Dame has been recognized for it's success in educating its student athletes. This makes me proud to be a Domer. When young men like Tom Thornton represent the University of Notre Dame with class and distinction around the world; when Tim Brown, Chris Zorich, Brady Quinn, & Co. are interviewed on national television and present themselves as articulate, educated, thoughtful young men of character, it makes me exceedingly proud. Proud of what it means to be a Notre Dame graduate. Proud of the excellence that my degree and my University represent.
And so, I want to thank and congratulate all the Notre Dame student-athletes who work so hard to make themselves better, to make the University better, and, as a by-product, to make all of us Domers so proud. Good luck to you all as you take your Notre Dame degrees out into the world. And good luck to Tom Thornton.