I’m not the same person that I was a year ago. I was a very involved student at this University, giving tours as a Lion Ambassador, writing posts for this blog, taking classes as a Marketing major, etc. And all of those things remain constant today. But a part of me changed – changed for the better, I think.
Despite my on-campus involvements, I was admittedly still an awe-struck college kid who’d matured little since my high school days. Besides Beaver Stadium Saturdays and THON reveal Sunday, little mattered to me. The more I mull over it, the more I realize that the past year forced my development as a person.
Sometime during that hellish week last November, I began wearing a very plain, nondescript, dark blue wristband on my left arm in support of child abuse awareness. It serves as a subtle reminder of the change that has taken place within myself and in this community. I haven’t taken it off since day I received it on the HUB stairwell.
I have a very keen memory. A lot has happened to this town — and for better or worse (mostly worse), I was front row for most of it. When I reflect on this year, pain and embarrassment are the two words that come to mind.
Pain for the damaged community that I so dearly love, pain for the innocent young men on the football team who were unfairly sanctioned, and most importantly, pain for those who have suffered under such a sick, stealthy pedophile. This year hurt. It hurt me. It hurt you. It hurt us all.
And through the yearlong agony, weaved embarrassment. I vividly remember how ashamed I was when hundreds of my friends and classmates took to the streets after the firing of Joe Paterno. I sat helpless in my apartment while the reputation of the student body dissipated by the minute. Fast forward eight months and people actually believed that a Centre County jury would side with pedophile strictly because of his past Penn State affiliation. The judgments were frequent and unfair. Practically all Penn Staters were labeled “enablers.” These upsetting recollections and many, many others will haunt people in this community for decades, including myself.
On to the future: Many distressed Penn Staters just want to “move on,” and frankly I don’t blame you, I do too. But I don’t plan on forgetting this past year. I can’t just simply forget that pain and embarrassment. I shouldn’t. You shouldn’t. We’d be doing ourselves an injustice.
As horrible as the past 12 months have been, there have been several takeaways for everyone. From appreciating due process, to regretting childish “riots,” to realizing that public discourse on the Internet is virtually impossible, we’ve all taken one, two, one hundred life lessons from this weary annum. Those aren’t to be forgotten. More importantly, child abuse was placed in the national spotlight. As people became more aware, they became more educated, and the more people know about how sexual predators operate, the more likely it’ll be prevented in the future. Perhaps, that’s the biggest global gain from this whole mess. A very worthy one, indeed.
As Penn Staters we must now take these newly learned lessons and values and carry them forward. We must be patient and understanding as the legal process continues to slowly unfold, we must shoulder the load and tow this University through it’s most trying times, and of course, we must raise continually raise awareness to the type of harm that transpired on this very campus.
All of these things are possible, because as I’ve learned over the past year, anything is possible at Penn State. Regardless of what has happened here, this is still an extraordinary place and while people may label us under the icons who, knowingly or not, let us down, I know my friends and fellow alumni will not.
Soon, I will graduate, hopefully get a job, and God willing, raise a family of my own. And through it all, that blue wristband will be a constant for me. It’ll be there when I go to sleep and it’ll there when I wake up, just like Penn State’s triumphs, just like Penn State’s struggles, just like the worldwide issue of child abuse. All three aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
So, as we all move forward from this, I’m not forgetting about the tragic events of the last 12 months. You shouldn’t either. We’d be cheating ourselves if we did. Repressing the nightmares mentally erases and diminishes the progressions of us all, both individually and collectively. And to do that, well that would be a tragedy within itself.