Most of us have taken the week to return to our families outside of the isolated enclave we call State College. Leaving our hyper-Penn State-centric home, concentrated at about 40,000:1, certainly has given me some perspective about what has happened both in the football program and to us as a university community.
On Tuesday, Adam Smeltz of StateCollege.com published an excellent column of his reflections in a State College vacated by almost all of those tens of thousands of students. Just being away from a place where Penn State isn’t the news 24/7, even before the scandal broke, but even more so now, has been helpful. But since I’ve returned, especially now since I’m a Penn State student, the scandal hasn’t died down that much in the news. Maybe it’s just because I’ve still been involved with looking at all the news that comes out of it for Onward State. But the fact remains, this is going to follow us wherever we go, at least for the near future.
But on Thanksgiving, you’re with your family. And what I’m most thankful for on this Thanksgiving is for family and friends who don’t see me as an extension of a tarnished university; they see me as they always have. And that’s what the national spotlight, the court of public opinion doesn’t see; we, the students, define what Penn State is, not the other way around. Regardless of how much dirt gets dug up about Sandusky or Paterno or Spanier or anyone else in the future, what Penn State is at its very core is us, the students. We are Penn State, and we are good people.
The people that matter will see you through this, unlike other whispers and murmurs that every Penn State student is going down with the ship. Guilt by association is all too prevalent today in the court of public opinion. But the people who see that association and cast us off as hopelessly guilty, or complicit, are mostly set in their ways and only believe what they want to believe. The same is true in the other direction, of people who don’t want to believe that anything bad happened at Penn State.
The fact is, that though the victims are, and should, be the primary focus of our sympathy, everyone who has some connection to Penn State has suffered a blow as well. Our hero of a coach has been deposed, and it seems that the world is looking for any excuse to think the worst of each of us. In a matter of days, our university is a skeleton of how we knew it before, when we chose to go to this great school.
But, at least, I notice that my family has stood behind me, picking me up when I’m down. They understand what I’m going through, they understand that I had nothing to do with any of this mess, and I’m sure the same goes for all of you. You will definitely have to hear some questions and you may get into a few arguments, but at least you’re not going to lose any family members because of it; they know you better than that.
It’s been good to be out of Happy Valley this week, and to not have every single news story, 24/7, be some other blow to Penn State. It’s been a positive time to recover and rally, and though I wish it’d come sooner, it’s still been a lot of help. I think most of us took off from State College as soon as we could, but the fact remains that we still have to go back on Monday.
So take that positive energy this week, channel it when you get back to campus. Though CNN and NBC and all the other news stations may still be there, and though Anderson Cooper might want you to go all-out Jerry Springer, they’re not interested in your well-being, only in more outrage that they can continue to squeeze news out of. Keep that rallying, positive energy alive, and realize that those who don’t bother to think beyond the simple thought that everything Penn State is bad, including the students, aren’t worth your time and effort. Any decent person will take a minute to think, and realize that guilt by association just doesn’t make sense. They’ll evaluate you for what you are.
Our most revered symbols and figureheads may be gone from Penn State, but that skeleton I mentioned is the core of the university: us. It’s up to us to go back to campus, pick ourselves up, and build a better Penn State. I know we can do it.