Learning to Make an Impact
While everyone continues to cast judgments Joe Paterno and what he stood for, while the media speculates about exactly what Joe knew based upon the “findings” of the Freeh report, while people claim Paterno’s legacy is ruined, and while many organizations distance themselves from his name, I will choose to remember Coach Paterno for the impact he had on my life and for making me the man I am today.
‘Football coach’ was only just a job title JoePa held for 62 years of his life. More fundamentally, he was a role model to many. He was looked up to by countless students and Alumni. Sure, we all loved the football wins, the bowl game victories, the two national championships and five undefeated seasons. But most of all, we admired Joe Paterno for who he was, what he stood for, and what values he instilled in all of us. He valued education. He valued integrity. He valued pushing every single person he came in contact with to be their very best, to strive to change the world and make an impact. Joe Paterno didn’t just leave an impact on his players; he left an impact on the lives of every single person associated with Pennn State University. As a proud member of the Class of 2012, I will never forget what I learned from Joe and the impact he had on my life.
During my senior year, I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation. I knew that law school was eventually down the road, but also that I wanted to do something more with my life before I started my professional career. Just days before Joe Paterno passed away I was offered a position with Teach for America (TFA), a program that helps eliminate educational inequity by placing recent college graduates into urban and rural public school systems. I had one week to decide whether or not I would accept this position.
As I considered the offer and leaned towards declining it, I found myself examining everything I could about the life of Joe Paterno in the days following his passing. One article in particular hit home for me and set me on a new life trajectory.
When Joe decided to remain a football coach instead of pursuing further education, his father was dismayed but still supported the decision and left him with a charge: To make an impact. Not to go through life just doing his job, but to be and stand for something more. Joe left that same charge to all of us. To strive not only for personal excellence, but to be a model for others, to achieve ‘Success with Honor’, to make an impact. It was at that very moment that I accepted my position with Teach for America. I haven’t once regretted that decision, and I am certain it’s one I wouldn’t have made without Joe’s influence.
I am currently teaching summer school in West Philadelphia and will be starting this fall as a seventh and eighth grade teacher in inner city Baltimore. Each day, I have a chance to come into school and make an impact on the lives of my students. I am working every day with students who need a positive influence in their lives, students that are just looking for someone to believe in them, to tell them they can succeed and to guide them onto that path of higher education and success. Coach would have believed in these students. He would have fought for every single one of them and he would have taught them lessons applicable to much more than life in the classroom. Because of Joe Paterno’s impact on me, I am in the classroom doing my best to give these kids the many opportunities that they deserve. The same opportunities that allowed me to receive an education from a world class institution.
While many others are calling for Paterno’s name to be erased from every record book and public tribute to his life, I will continue to defend him for the man I knew him to be. I won’t naively defend his innocence or claim that he had no role at all in the horrific events that unfolded at my beloved university due to the heinous actions of one evil individual; however, I will remember Joe as the man who taught me innumerable and indispensable life lessons. I will remember him as the man who gave me the charge to MAKE AN IMPACT on this world. And every day that I wake up and go to work to see my students, I will thank Joe for leading me to this opportunity and for showing me the enormous impact that I can have on the lives of so many.
Thank you Joe for inspiring so many of us to pursue a path to change this world for the better and to fight to make an impact on everyone we come in contact with.
Proud member of The Pennsylvania State University Class of 2012