The university announced in October that the 2016 class gift would establish an endowment to benefit Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). I was more than ecstatic to think we were leaving our legacy this way. Tangibly, it might be something we will never see — our gift won’t be across from Rec Hall with a line hundreds deep on the day of a home football game — but the intangibility is the beauty behind this gift.
The other day, in a moment of weakness and boredom, I decided to time travel back to the mid-2000s and log into Facebook. As I scrolled through my timeline, I came across an intriguing album: a collection of different images titled “Physical vs. Mental Illness.” Curiously, I clicked on the link and viewed the different images, which outlined the same depressing animated situation in different contexts.
Image by image, and situation by situation, the message stayed true. The demeanor in which we treat mental illness was blatantly illustrated: we don’t handle it how we should and we don’t talk about it enough. I find solace in the fact that we are taking initiative to address these issues at Penn State. We might not have voted on a shiny “We Are” statue outside of the IM Building that welcomes Instagram likes, but the 2016 class gift is so much more than that. It’s an investment in the betterment of the university and future generations.
This gift proves that CAPS and mental health became a serious topic throughout our time here. The endowment for CAPS will help cultivate these necessary conversations, and we are some of first supporters of this movement. This gift will give resources to the silent sufferers on campus who feel alone, anxious, or depressed — even those who are suicidal. We are the progressive class that will provide immediate counseling services rather than delayed help after students linger on a two-month waiting list.
I first attended CAPS my sophomore year, when it was located in the UHS Building. I was nervous because I didn’t want to be the guy who had a crazy issue and needed therapy, but the experience exceeded my expectations. CAPS immediately welcomed me with open arms. CAPS therapy helped me pull myself out of a hole I had been digging for years, and that is something so valuable.
Now as a senior, I can see that the program needs improvement. The waiting list is months long and students are desperate to get in. There is so much demand right now for mental health counseling that CAPS had to move to a small office next to Rotelli. Issues like these shed light on the fact that our country does not treat mental health correctly. It’s just like any physical illness a student could get — when the Penn State plague rears its ugly head, seemingly everyone on campus gets sick — but we tend to forget that mental suffering is just as painful or severe as external physical suffering.
At the end of the day, I will always be proud to be from Penn State. The “We Are” chant and the notoriety of attending this school facilitates a wide community acceptance. However, what I am most proud of is that my class of 2016 is the beginning of a movement. We are starting a trend that will last into the future. Our gift brings hope and resources to those who think they’ve lost it all. It’s something so important, especially in a time where student life is becoming more and more stressful as society advances. Sure, we might not have something symbolizing our existence here with a statue, but we bring the possibility of a healthier Penn State environment. This should ultimately be our number one priority, and I am forever in awe of that.