Advice for First-Year Students

Welcome to my class!

By now, you are all battle-hardened first-year students.  Still, I would like to give you some advice anyway, since you will be battle-weary employees in only a few short years. At the end of this semester, you will only have three years left at Notre Dame.

I am a teacher.  To give you a sense of my philosophy of teaching, allow me to share four personal biases.

First, you are at Notre Dame because you are intelligent and talented. Yet as you have undoubtedly already discovered, everybody around you is intelligent and talented, too. So boring! The challenge for you during the next three and a-half years is to learn to be interesting. This means that you should acquire the tools, the wisdom, and the passion to make people care about who you are and what you will become.

Second, I am not really interested in the other universities’ conventional definitions of what it means to be educated. I emphasize analysis and understanding. If you can’t analyze and understand, you won’t be able to persuade. If you can’t persuade, we will have failed you because success in life is all about persuasion.

Third, why Notre Dame? Until you graduate, you should keep asking yourself why you chose Notre Dame over other institutions, such as the University of Spoiled Children, the Leland Stanford Junior University, and various East-coast finishing schools [mistake here].  Did it matter to you that Notre Dame is a Catholic university?  If our university is doing its job, it should matter in some important way makes you stand out.

Finally, in the words of a prominent contemporary philosopher, “along with great privilege comes great responsibility.”  University education is a privilege that most people in the world cannot afford.  Who knows why both you and I have been given the blessing of leisure time to cultivate our minds?  We are morally obliged to make the most of it. As the Bible says: “No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, that those who come in may see the light” (Luke 11:33).  Of course, there are right and wrong ways to exercise your talents.  We want you to exhibit the traits that will make Notre Dame proud:  integrity, gratitude, generosity, a passion for justice, and–a quality that is too rare in our world today–kindness.

My office hours are on Tuesdays from 1:30-2:30 and Wednesdays from 2:00-4:00.  My office is 2080 Nanovic Hall.  You do not need a specific reason to visit me. I’m always curious to know what’s on your mind.  My email:

Again, I am very glad you are in my class.

A. James McAdams

NOTE:  Please turn off and do not use your technology during class.  This includes electronic devices of any kind, such as laptops, i-Pads, cell phones, Kindles, video cameras, video games, or other personal digital apparatuses.  Above all: this is a no-tweet zone!