Spotlight: Michael Mercurio

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Michael presenting on firefighter barracks in ostia

Every month, we have the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with our CSLC Spotlight nominees and discover just how incredible they truly are. This month’s spotlight was “wholeheartedly” awarded by Professor Tadeusz Mazurek of the Classics Department to the very affable and deeply committed Michael Mercurio. A regular at the CSLC, Mercurio is a senior Classics major from Torrance, CA who possesses a unique blend of academic acumen, natural leadership qualities, and spiritual values.

Foreign Language Experience

Mercurio is a quadruple foreign language threat: he has studied Latin, Greek, Japanese, and Italian. His fondness for foreign languages began in high school. Recalling the circumstances of his first Latin class, Mercurio admits that Latin was a “default” language class; that is, Latin was the only class that wasn’t full when he was a freshman. However, he quickly “fell in love with Latin” and the “ancient Roman culture.” Today, Mercurio realizes that he’s “pretty good at languages that people consider ‘dead,’ i.e. Latin and Greek…I can read Greek fairly well” and is currently reading the Odyssey in Greek.

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To his delight, Mercurio has found a great deal of support and enthusiasm from the Classics and Japanese communities at Notre Dame. “There’s so much enthusiasm from faculty and students alike!” in the Classics Department, exclaims Mercurio. The department has hosted numerous events such as Sound of Classics. Mercurio has infused some of his own energy by co-founding the Classics Club, which “shuns the ill-conceived notion that Latin is dead and holds Latin Language Lunches.”

The Japanese community at Notre Dame has provided the same enthusiastic support to Mercurio. He lauds Professor Noriko Hanabusa and Professor Miyuki Yamamoto:

“Hanabusa-sensei and Yamamoto-sensei! Their fun and friendly demeanor helps me not be intimidated by learning a new language, and they’re always encouraging me to use Japanese in daily life, such as through blogging or attending Japanese dinner tables.”

Currently, Mercurio is tying his Classics research to his Asian Studies research. For his honors senior thesis, Mercurio is researching the Latin writings of Tertullian to gain insight into the role of Christian military service during the Roman Empire. Mercurio hopes his Latin thesis will serve as “a point of comparison” for his Asian Studies minor capstone project on Christian samurais in Japan during the Tokugawa Shogunate era.

International Resume

Mercurio started building his international portfolio early. In his youth, Mecurio and his family traveled twice to the Philippines to visit his grandparents. In his junior year of high school, he was one of three students nationwide awarded a scholarship by Epson America for the Youth for Understanding cultural program. The program presented Mercurio an opportunity to live with a host family in Matsumoto, Japan for six weeks during the following summer. During his immersion in Matsumoto, Mercurio accompanied his host brother daily to a variety of Japanese literature, calligraphy, and even English classes. He reflects on the program:

“These aren't just people from another culture--not just a cultural experience. These are people. Don't see them as exotic. See them as people to learn from and grow with. Share your own culture and share yourself too.”

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Last year presented a trove of international experiences. In the Fall, Mercurio went on a pilgrimage, sponsored by Notre Dame’s Campus Ministry, to visit the site of Saint André Bessette, whose tomb lies in St. Joseph’s oratory in Montreal, Canada. Mercurio recalls: “The spiritual aspect was much needed for me. I was taking six classes and directing Asian Allure. Life was crazy. Going on the pilgrimage helped me keep things in perspective. To take things as they come. As God presents them to you.”

Last Spring, Mercurio studied at the prestigious Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, where the majority of the class lectures were given at the actual archeology sites of ancient Rome. Mercurio describes the program as “one of the most academically rigorous and also fun and worthwhile experiences in my life.” During his breaks in Rome, Mercurio visited Holland and Switzerland.

Ministry and Outreach

Outreach and volunteerism are integral in Mercurio’s (busy) life. He organizes service trips to the local homeless shelters to help cook, clean, and interact with the residents and also rakes leaves for the elderly for Circle K’s “Turning Over a New Life.” Mercurio has also participated in the Appalachia and Portland service trips through the Center for Social Concerns (CSC). Additionally, he eagerly gives tours to high school students in Notre Dame’s TRIO programs.

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Ministry also has a special appeal to Mercurio. He was active in his high school’s campus ministry program. A member of Notre Dame’s Campus Ministry, Mercurio has coordinated student events and retreats. He also altar serves regularly at Mass in his dorm chapel in Morrissey. His short-term goal after graduation is to work in Notre Dame’s Campus Ministry as an intern. He already works with Associate Director, Priscilla Wong, who is like family to him: “Priscilla’s awesome. She’s like my second mom here at Notre Dame.”

University Experience

Mercurio epitomizes someone who creates his own opportunities, making his University experience the best it can be. Through effort and acumen, he has racked up a litany of academic accomplishments, including the Hritzu-Erickson travel grant from the Classics Department to attend a Latin-speaking workshop in New York as well as the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) grant to attend an archaeology conference in Texas.

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Being active is a big theme in Mercurio’s University life: “I’m pretty involved in the multicultural student groups at Notre Dame.” Mercurio’s ebullient and audacious personality has made him a natural leader in the various student groups. Besides having choreographed dances for Fiestang Filipino, he has emceed (and danced in) two productions of Notre Dame’s Asian Allure, one of the University’s largest cultural events. Last year, he directed Asian Allure, a feat that involved corralling all the Asian American student organizations on campus. He also served as an International Ambassador for international students. Currently, he is leading the charge as a Resident Assistant in the Morrissey dormitory.

To new foreign language and culture learners, Mercurio offers some advice: first, whatever language you are learning, apply it to your daily life “through fun or random activities.” Second, step out of your comfort zone while studying abroad. Mercurio explains that "“If you try to participate in a community, even if you are scared about being different, chances are someone in that community will appreciate your efforts and welcome you. It’s always worth a shot.”

Third, Mercurio encourages students to be open-minded while abroad and make “cross-cultural friendships” because they will be lasting.

By all accounts, Mercurio, who plans on going to grad school or law school in a couple of years, has found success at Notre Dame. For his academic accomplishments, he is quick to credit the entire Classics Department “for the ways they’ve pushed me towards excellence in Latin and Greek.” The feeling is mutual with the Classics Department. Professor Mazurek (“Magister Mazurek”) describes Mercurio: “he’s just a wonderful and very deserving young man.”