As you know, Penn State is going through the most difficult time in its storied, honored, history. The acts of a few, who were more powerful and deceitful than anyone could imagine, have tarnished the image of an extremely proud and notorious institution. In the last few months, the media has made alumni, like me, feel like we should be ashamed to call ourselves Penn State alum or “Penn State Proud.” This is media hype at its finest and I refuse to let it happen to me.
The Penn State that I know, the Penn State that shaped me, had little to nothing to do with the football program. In fact, football was the least of my concerns when I was there. From 1995-1999, I was a student in University Park. I was there to learn about my career as a teacher and to learn even more about myself as a person.
I had wanted to go to Penn State Main Campus since I was a middle schooler. Sure, my first memories and interests in the school were sparked by watching football games with my dad on Saturday afternoons. We went to a few and I was awed by Beaver Stadium. However, I really knew that Penn State was for me when I had the chance to stay on campus for a few days in the spring for 5 straight years when I was in middle school and high school. I participated in the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science and the prize for placing first in the regional competition was spending a Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in May , in the dorms of Penn State Main Campus and presenting your project at the state competition. As a middle school student, away from home, on a college campus, I thought I would be intimidated or nervous. In fact, the opposite was true. I fell in love with the campus. I couldn’t get enough Frisbee near the old lot 80. I loved walking through the book store and imagining myself with my backpack on going to class. The Creamery was located just up the street from East Halls. We had access to it all. When my three days were up, I didn’t want to leave. I knew it was the place for me.
Once I decided that Penn State was for me, I jumped at the chance to go there. I sent out my application the summer before my senior year. I clearly remember the November day that I received my acceptance letter to Main Campus. I was thrilled! My buddy Craig and my girlfriend at the time were accepted too. It was perfect. A few of my other friends were accepted to branch campuses but we all knew that they could make their way to main campus. This had nothing to do with football.
My freshman year was filled with experiences that I will never forget. I met friends that I still have to this day. They were people from all over the state and the country. We laughed a whole lot. We did things that were so stupid, that looking back, we were lucky we ended up getting to our sophomore year.
That first year was a time for me to take a huge campus with 40,000 student and make it small. I had met such awesome people, and done so many awesome things, that it felt like Penn State was a small knit community. Sure, we went to a few football games, but we were making memories with each other and the campus. Penn State gave me the opportunity to come out of my shell and reach out to new people. Through pledging two fraternities (and not following through on either) I met some incredible people who still make me laugh all the time. The boys at Sig Tau will always make me laugh when I think of the stuff we used to do and the times we still have when we get together. Thanks to them for still letting an old ex-pledge hang around!
I will never forget the CATA Line busses late at night, roller blading to classes, the chiming of the Old Main Bell, the old location of The Creamery, Frisbee on the HUB Lawn, the Blue and White golf courses, working at The Kinder Station with some really kick-ass people, the things that I don’t remember, jumping off of Sig Tau’s roof (at the original house) after a huge snowstorm, Zeno’s, The Brewery, Penn Tower, East Halls, Arts Fest, the Riot, summers at PSU, the $108 keg, laying in a field watching the stars, and the countless other things that we did. Football just didn’t do it for me. There were too many other things to do.
The social aspects of Penn State really helped me branch out and become who I am as a person. However the academic side of Penn State has given me everything that has molded my career as a sixth grade science teacher. In fact, the academic side is the reason why I met my wife and have the family that I do.
I started out as a dual major in physics and biology. After my second try at double variable calculus, I decided that it was time to change tracks. I entered the field of elementary education. Penn State offered a student teaching opportunity in Pierre, South Dakota, at a government funded boarding school for Native American students. I jumped at the opportunity. After being interviewed and accepted, I was on my way to South Dakota. While there, I was able to take a bus to the Eagle Butte Indian Reservation to pick up some of our students. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least. I saw poverty like I had never even imagined. However, these students jumped on the bus with a smile on their faces and were ready to learn. I was exposed to a culture that is so unique. I felt honored that they were allowing me to teach their children. Football had nothing to do with it.
Not only did I meet and interact with Native American students, I met and fell in love with my wife while I was there. She went to Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. They had the same program as Penn State.
I know that my story and my experiences at Penn State are not unique. University Park is filled with good, honest people, teachers, and professors who have given their entire life to bettering other’s lives. To them, I say thank you and keep it up. The actions of a few, even though they were powerful and deceitful DO NOT represent what Penn State IS. Notice I did not say “what Penn State was.” Penn State is still an excellent university filled with people who have passion, integrity, and heart. Penn State is opportunity. Penn State is what you make it. It is not the evil that the media has made it out to be. The actions of a few are horrid and will never be forgotten. However, even though the media doesn’t see it this way, Penn State is much more than football. It is a tile mosaic of hundreds of thousands of pieces. All of them unique and football is but one of those tiles. Don’t let the media decide what our portrait should be. We are the artists…We Are Penn State!