Just after midnight on a weekday last March, Lynnette Wukie got a text from her friend.
“It’s 1 a.m. You have 16 hours left. You better be working on your application.”
By 5 p.m. March 24, Wukie had written an essay and created her video – the two application requirements for the job.
Less than a month later – and several “interviews” in between – she and two fellow Notre Dame students would have the job.
As a leprechaun.
But not just any leprechaun.
The Leprechaun of the Fighting Irish.
And Wukie would be the first female one at that.
For the Elyria, Ohio native who at different points in her childhood wanted to be a cosmetologist, a vet, a teacher and a publisher, this one as Notre Dame mascot was truly the job of her dreams.
“I thought to myself, ‘I could do that. I’d LOVE to do that,’” Wukie said about her last-minute decision to try out for something she’d been sorta, kinda thinking about.
Although the idea of becoming one of the famous Leprechauns had been suggested a year before, Wukie was still “on the fence” until the fateful text.
“It was the push I needed,” said the junior film, television and theatre major who also serves as an intern to the vice president as well as a digital media producer for the university’s outreach and engagement office.
She threw together a video with the tagline, “Who says the Fighting Irish can’t fight like a girl?” and now she is the first female Leprechaun since the little gnome of Irish folklore officially became the Notre Dame mascot in 1965.
And as cool as that ground-breaking feat is, Wukie is more impressed by the fact that the trio of Leprechauns this year represents the most diverse class in school history.
— Vahid Sadrzadeh (@VahidTV) April 26, 2019
Conal Fagan, who will don the green suit and crazy hat for a second year, hails from Northern Ireland and has the real accent to go with the costume. Samuel Jackson is only the second African-American in mascot history to be named one of the Leprechauns, and Wukie, who is also African-American, represents not just the first woman but also the first black woman to be on the squad.
“Our Leprechaun trio continues to show everyone how special ‘different’ can be,” Wukie said. “You make your own path, and staying in any kind of box is your choice, and often boring. We want to show everyone that you should be proud of who you are and ignore any and all stereotypes. You need to pursue your dreams no matter what the people before you have done or what qualities they possessed.”
The fact that there was such a diverse group of candidates is rather remarkable given that practically all previous mascots had been white, male students.
“I think that I didn’t realize how much hype would come of our group being named the trio that would portray the Leprechaun this year,” Wukie said. “Reading all of the articles about the three of us was pretty surreal and I almost felt like I was reading about someone else, not us. I have gotten a lot of messages from parents saying their kids are so happy to see all of us because they get to see more of themselves in us than ever before.”
That definitely resonated with Wukie, who remembered how she felt the first time she saw movies with female superheroes or a female lead who was African-American.
“I remember when ‘Moana’ came out; I was so excited to have a Disney princess that looked like me, and I was an upperclassman in high school, so I’d been waiting a long time,” she said, adding that she hadn’t realized what she’d been missing by watching movies with so many male superheroes or white women as the lead. “I just really hope that doing this and being a part of something so much bigger than myself will be that for another little girl.”
Wukie has made a big splash so far.
After her “Fight like a girl” application video got the attention of the judges enough to be selected as one of the finalists, the grueling multi-part interview process gave Wukie the chance to make that tagline more than just lip service.
“It just came to me as I was filming,” Wukie said of her idea to say that in the application video. “I never really thought it’d be quoted as much as it has been, but it personifies everything I’m about.”
The whole “tryout” included several “rounds” with the first being a mock pep rally in which each finalist had to entertain the crowd for five minutes. Contestants had to include a hype speech, do some cheers and cue the band for at least one song – but that was the extent of the instructions.
And it was all this dance-loving former high school cheerleader needed.
Your inside look at @NDTheLeprechaun tryouts is here. 👇
— The Fighting Irish (@FightingIrish) May 16, 2019
Wukie, who has worked for years as a golf caddy in her hometown and is an Evans Scholar, was right at home getting the crowd into it as she channeled her “inner coach” and made several students get into a huddle for her “hype speech.”
“I also did the Irish jig to keep people on their feet and involved,” she said. “I’m not sure how they do the scoring, but ultimately it was all up to us to show what we could bring to the table.”
In fact, it is this impromptu ability to get a crowd into the right spirit and get behind their teams that is the most crucial aspect of being the Notre Dame Leprechaun.
Each finalist also had to do a fake press interview in front of the crowd as well as act out a mock community situation in two minutes – such as teaching preschoolers about fire safety – which Wukie admitted was her favorite part.
“That was my favorite because I got to pull people from the audience and interact, which is what I’m best at,” she said.
The final test for Wukie and her fellow Leprechaun-wannabes was possibly her least-favorite test – a push-up contest. But doing what she does best, Wukie turned it into an entertainment possibility.
“I made myself go to about 20 until I started doing squats instead,” she said. “I figured there was no way I’d win, so I might as well get people to laugh.”
As the “Green Leprechaun,” Wukie will cover games for mainly soccer, hockey and lacrosse. And since being the mascot is part of the cheerleading squad, Wukie, Jackson and Fagan are all on a training regimen this summer because once the fall semester begins, the three will be at sporting and community events “all the time” – which is exactly what Wukie is looking forward to, even if it means working on those push-ups.
“I haven’t regularly worked out since high school, so it took some adjusting, but I love watching my progress and getting back into shape.”
Although Wukie was overjoyed at being one of the three selected and certainly felt very proud, the magnitude of being the first female mascot – as well as the first African-American female mascot – hasn’t really hit her yet.
But it’s also something she’s excited about adjusting to.
“It really has yet to sink in, but I can’t believe I get to represent the university that continues to help me grow every single day,” Wukie said. “I’m most proud to be a symbol of Notre Dame’s pursuit of diversity and inclusion. I think this class of Leprechauns shows how the school really has a place for anyone and everyone.”