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The Letter Jacket Ceremony

Nov 5, 2013, 11:45 AM EDT

More than 50 student-athletes were presented letter jackets at the 2013 spring ceremony (Photo by Lighthouse Imaging).

Tomorrow evening, the Notre Dame Monogram Club will present more than 100 student-athletes with letter jackets in recognition of receiving their first Monogram. Though letter jackets have long been a part of the Monogram Club, it was only recently that this special event was established. The following feature was written by Pete LaFleur (’90), and first published in this past weekend’s football program. Read below to learn more about what has become one of the Club’s finest young traditions.

Notre Dame student-athletes have been receiving varsity monograms for 115 years, dating back to the late 1800s. For decades upon decades, the actual presenting of the monogram, that distinctive interlocking ND, was “semi-formal” at best.

In years gone by, letter jackets typically were issued during team banquets, handed out informally by coaches, or – most commonly – recipients simply were asked to swing by the equipment room to pick up their prized letter jacket with basically no fanfare, other than a firm handshake from the equipment manager’s staff.

Things changed dramatically in 2008, when Notre Dame’s Monogram Club – basically the letterwinners alumni association – began sponsoring a bi-annual Letter Jacket Ceremony. Over the past six years, all first-time monogram winners formally have received their varsity letter jacket at this special ceremony, with one even held in the fall and another in the spring.

The ceremonies each have featured a former Notre Dame student-athlete serving as guest speaker. Basketball alum Brooks Boyer (’94) has spent nearly a decade in administrative roles with the Chicago White Sox, currently serving as senior vice president for sales and marketing.

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Football student-athletes Nicky Baratti, Romeo Okwara and KeiVarae Russell earned their first Monograms at the 2013 spring ceremony (Photo by Lighthouse Imaging).

“Receiving your jacket is just the starting point – right here, right now, you’re starting over,” Boyer told the first-time monogram recipients at the 2012 fall event. “It’s not the jacket that’s ultimately going to make a difference in you. It’s what you ultimately do in that jacket.

“It’s how you’re going to carry on the pride, passion and tradition that’s been set before you. Take those three things with you all the time. That’s what the Monogram Club is all about. It’s not about the jacket, it’s about the people in the jacket.”

The interlocking nature of the block ND monogram is no coincidence. Rather than having one letter overlaying the other, the parts of the letters instead weave through each other. This intertwined configuration conveys the strong, symbiotic relationships with teammates, friends and family, relationships that help Notre Dame student-athletes better reach their academic and competitive goals.

Former Notre Dame football wide receiver Lake Dawson (’94) served as guest speaker at a recent Monogram Letter Jacket Ceremony. Dawson played six seasons in the NFL and has spent seven years in the Tennessee Titans front office, currently as vice president of player personnel.

“This monogram is a symbol of Notre Dame’s principles,” said Dawson, in his remarks to the monogram winners. “Notre Dame student-athletes embrace a higher standard, with strong beliefs based on faith, values, tradition, hard work, being purpose-driven and a commitment to excellence. This standard has helped shape and mold the success I’ve achieved in my life and will do the same for you.”

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Skylar Diggins (’13) and University Vice President/Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick (’76) at the 2010 fall letter jacket ceremony (Photo by Lighthouse Imaging).

The Monogram Club’s living membership is an exclusive group, representing only 6% (7,500 of 130,000) of all living Notre Dame alumni. Becoming a Monogram Club member can have lifelong benefits, some of substantial value. Senior student-athletes are able to apply for graduate scholarships, through a relatively new Monogram Club membership benefit program. More substantially, the Brennan-Boland-Riehle Scholarship Fund – one of the Monogram’s oldest core programs – allows dues-paying members to apply for scholarship aid for their children who are attending Notre Dame.

One of the special natures of the Monogram Club is that the board of directors, naturally, are former student-athletes who still hold fond memories from receiving their own first monogram. Here are brief comments from some of them:

  • Kevin O’Connor (’89, lacrosse) – “The monogram comes with a level of expectation and a commitment to excellence. You hope you will be able to live up to that level of excellence from those who receded you. When I look at that varsity letter, I don’t think of my jacket, I think of my teammates, coaches, places we went and teams we played. It means so much more than the actual letter itself.”
  • Kate Sobrero Markgraf (’98, soccer) – “Earning a Notre Dame monogram builds in you a confidence and you have that foundation, that efficacy, for the rest of your life that you can do anything. You don’t ever settle for mediocrity. You try to be the best you can, in every aspect of your life.”
  • Marty Allen (’58, football student manager) – “The expectation when you are given something special is to try to be something special, to as many people as you can. That’s a big part of receiving the Notre Dame monogram.”

Former Notre Dame football player Reggie Brooks (1989-92), the Club’s Manager for Monogram/Football Relations, has seen firsthand the evolution of the letter jacket presentation.

“When I was a player, we would walk into the equipment room, tell them our size, try one on and then they basically just handed you a jacket. It was not much different than receiving a pair of shoes,” recalls Brooks.

“We appreciated it, we were proud to earn that monogram and wear the jacket, but the act of actually receiving it was very unceremonial compared to today. The current ceremony makes the achievement even more special for the student-athletes.”

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