In Midst of Sandusky Scandal, Life Went on for Lion Ambassadors
Imagine trying to sell a product to consumers while just about everybody else in the world is bashing it. This was not supposed to be a real scenario; it was not part of the description when you volunteered for the job. Keep in mind that this is not some new, innovative product without a track record. Quite the contrary, actually, as it has existed for over one hundred and fifty years. It has been amazingly good to you. Currently, a few people associated with the product have tried to bring it down. Their actions have threatened the product’s reputation and delivered several punches to the stomach and blows to the head, which if they actually happened, would pale in comparison to how the true victims suffered. Despite all this, you know, deep down, that the product will be good to you again. It has to be, it has given you so much, but what about the future customers who have never associated with it before? How are you going to get them to buy into your product when so many people outside your business are telling them they shouldn’t?
It should be fairly obviously already, but this product is the Pennsylvania State University, and for the past week and going forward, but specifically for the past week during the worst time in Penn State’s long-tenured history, it was the job of the Penn State Lion Ambassadors to sell their university to high-school students when many outsiders wanted to do nothing but trash it.
The Lion Ambassadors tried to maintain a sense of normalcy as best they could. The number of prospective students who showed up for tours remained consistent, and tour guides stuck to their typical route barring something unforeseen. “We were told to be truthful and smart with our words, but how we specifically wanted to address the situation was at our discretion,” said Lion Ambassador Rachel Cichowicz. “You’re going to be genuine about something you love, and I tried to show the school how it is supposed to be shown,” added Cichowicz.
Being overwhelmingly positive was a theme that was constantly preached going into tours. “There is more to Old Main than just Graham Spanier’s office. Everything has a bigger story, and there is so much more to say,” said Cichowicz. Despite being prepared and confident, circumstances would arise that no one imagines ever having to prepare for. While giving a Tuesday tour, Cichowicz encountered a 1975 Penn State graduate burning his diploma outside Old Main while yelling negative remarks about the university to her group of students. She calmly kept her group moving letting them know that they should not have to encounter something like that while on a tour. “It was not an ideal situation, but I think they saw how I responded and really respected it.”
Lion Ambassador Andrew White also had a difficult assignment of giving a tour Thursday afternoon, less than twenty-four hours removed from Joe Paterno’s firing and subsequent riots that became national and international stories. “I was apprehensive going into it. I really did not know how I was going to answer some questions if asked, but it ended up being very therapeutic for me,” said White. He elected not to make an opening statement to his group regarding the situation and simply tried to accentuate the positives Penn State has to offer. “It was a terrible thing that happened, but I tried to emphasize that Penn State is still a great place to attend college,” added White. His efforts did not go unnoticed either. “People thanked me afterwards and told me it was the best tour they had been a part of since they started visiting schools.”
In regards to the football program and Joe Paterno, there is no plan to avoid bringing up his name when relevant on tours. “Joe Paterno is a living legend, and I am not going to stop telling people about all the amazing contributions he and his family have made to the university,” said Cichowicz. Similar to White, she also felt good vibes from the students when her tour concluded. “I am so proud of the greatness that is Penn State. It is a network of phenomenal human beings who go on to do so many amazing things, and I tried to sell them on being a part of it.”
When this all began ten days ago, my life essentially shut down. I neglected schoolwork. I was hardly able to study. My room became a mess; my kitchen sink had at least forty dishes piled up in it, and at times I was so consumed in the investigation that I forgot to eat. I sat on Twitter for long periods of time waiting for new information, and when not refreshing my feed, I was writing another story about the scandal. When I think about it in retrospect, maybe my life did not come to a halt as much as priorities shifted. For a week, I wasn’t really a student but more a concerned individual trying to express my thoughts while also reporting facts. I wish this never would have happened, but I do not regret the time I have invested in it.
With that said, I had a choice in all of this. I had the option of sitting at my countertop and crying Wednesday night when the news broke that Paterno had been fired and then crying again for the victims. I elected to finally take a nap Thursday afternoon thinking I could somehow make this all go away through sleep. Many other students made these same choices. For the Lion Ambassadors, however, it was not necessarily a choice but more a call to duty, a call to remain positive when negativity swirled all around.
When students visit here for a tour, they are not yet part of Penn State’s culture. They may not know about THON, Homecoming festivities, clubs and organizations on campus, football Saturdays in Beaver Stadium, and everything else that makes Penn State what it is. Having not experienced it for themselves, it is the job of the Lion Ambassadors to bring all of this and more to life so prospective students will want to embrace it. They have one chance to make a good first impression.
“Our goal is always to foster pride. In times like this, we are truly the face of the university,” said Cichowicz. Well said, Rachel.
The university is in good hands.