Thanksgiving break should mean cherishing time with family and friends after a long semester away. Seeing those people during previous Thanksgiving breaks generally meant excitedly discussing Penn State football, my classes, and how nice it felt to be back home, just kicking back for a week. This year, however, the break we all craved proved to be nothing more than a mirage in a desert of controversy.
Going home, I thought, would provide a chance to finally get away from the media trucks and unanswered questions. Unfortunately, it quickly became evident that escaping what had transpired in Happy Valley the past few weeks was not an option. The questions asked and opinions given were innocent enough, and many simply wanted to gain a better understanding of a topic that I, unfortunately, have insight into. None of that changes the fact that all I wanted to do was leave Penn State’s troubles behind for the week, and it seemed the world did not want to cooperate.
The paradox exists in the fact that my family and friends feel pride in the way I’ve handled myself through a truly horrible situation, and they think I should be proud of myself, too. And I am- to a degree. I feel that I represent the Penn State student body fairly well when given the opportunity. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I wish every single day that we could return to a time when doing so wouldn’t be considered remarkable.
My family hosted Thanksgiving at our house this year, as we always do. The first guests arrived at 3:06 PM, and by 3:12 the topic of discussion had already shifted to the inevitable, and remained there for the duration of the evening. Judging by what I heard from friends and what I saw on Twitter, this was a common theme for Penn State students on a day when our minds should have been on family, food, and football.
Everyone has a story. Maybe a senile great-aunt told you she hoped you weren’t one of the victims. Maybe a few of your uncles spent the afternoon cracking “Sandusky jokes.” Maybe a drunk cousin ran her mouth about how terrible Penn State is (now) compared to her school. And, worst of all, maybe you were told to stop being so sensitive about the whole thing.
It’s difficult to expect our friends and family at home to understand what the past few weeks have been like for us, and yet, we can’t help but do so. Unfortunately, all they know comes straight from the news vans we walk past every day on the way to class, hoping that maybe tomorrow they’ll be gone.
And, for us, that’s not good enough. We want them all to know what it feels like to have their world turned upside down, and then to feel the pressure of restoring a name that, until recently, seemed untouchable. We want them to know how it feels to see a beloved legend, a hero, even, fall from grace. We want them to see the candles we held on Old Main lawn, to hear the media request that we explain our feelings about problems we never asked for, and to feel the connection we shared and the tears we shed.
The only conclusion I can draw from this past week is that we need each other more than ever before. Our families, friends, co-workers, all those we will encounter in the coming months or years– they will not, cannot, ever fully understand how this situation has affected us. We need to learn to have patience with the world outside of Happy Valley, and we need to be there for each other when that patience begins to crumble.
We Are Penn State, and, more than ever, we need Penn State.