The Break That Wasn’t


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.

Photo By: Ellie Skrzat

About Author

John is a senior in the Smeal College of Business majoring in Marketing. He currently serves as the President of the Paternoville Coordination Committee and as a THON Chair for Nittany Nation. He tweets a lot.


  1. This was a truly beautiful piece of writing that perfectly conveyed how I think a lot of us must be feeling. Great work. 

  2. Thank you! That means a lot to me. I figured many of us struggled at times over break with this, and it’s nice to know that you’re not the only one going through it.

  3. Great article Jon…it was difficult coming home to questions and thoughts that I didn’t want anything to do with. Glad someone actually wrote about it.

  4. Great article John…it was difficult coming home to questions and thoughts that I didn’t want anything to do with. Glad someone actually wrote about it.

  5. Honestly toughest thing for me was meeting people over break and them asking me what school I went to. Normally I’m really excited to say Penn State…not so much this time.

  6. I will probably be disliked more for trying this again, but I feel really strongly about it, so here goes….

    I hope students, alumni and parents will take positive action to restore pride in the Univeristy, rather than continuing to feel downtrodden and ashamed.

    Stop blaming the media.  Put the blame where it belongs:  on Sandusky and those in power who allowed things to be covered up.  Demand transparency.  Demand big change.

    Rather than buying another PSU shirt, donate the money to services for abuse survivors.  Don’t riot and put on a show for the media, but instead, have a non-violent protest for reform, with signs that tout academics and achievement.  Stop donating (except to Thon).  Stop buying tickets.  Sign petitions.  Take action. 

    If you’re doing something positive, it will show.  When you go home over the winter break and you encounter more discussion, you can talk about all the things you did to help the situation.  Silence and sadness aren’t going to change anything.  You have a voice.  It’s time to use it.

  7. Not disliked at all, at least from my point of view. I agree with much of what you said above, and have taken many actions and stances that are in line with it. Especially the last paragraph.

    I don’t want this piece to be mistaken for me feeling sorry for myself, or Penn State students feeling sorry for themselves in general. I just wanted to give a voice to a lot of students who went through the same thing I did this week, which was what turned out to be false hope for an escape from a terrible situation.

  8. Oh, I agree.  It’s a mourning process in a way, and it takes time.

    I’m just saying it’s time for a different focus.  Rebuilding will take time too, and things will probably get worse before they get better.  The more everyone can do to affect positive change will be good for themselves and the University.


  9. my friends back home didnt even want to see me because they thought i was immature and disgusting for “supporting an institution that promotes (like really wtf?) child rape” so instead i drove an hour and a half away and hung out with my friend from penn state.

  10. Great article John. Ironically, things started to feel a little bit normal around here for us townies. 

  11. Thank you, Sri. I figured it’d be a little better in town, where everyone who would normally be asking already knows the answers. Nice to have the media vans gone too.

  12. So glad to hear others had the same problems when dealing with friends at home. Thanks for reminding me I wasn’t alone.