We Can All Be The Next Joe Paterno
As I sat through yesterday’s memorial service, I couldn’t help but experience an incredible feeling of inspiration. Don’t get me wrong, my heart ached for the Paterno family, especially Sue, as they continue to grieve the loss of their family’s beloved patriarch. However, I left the service feeling more inspired than sad, more powerful than weak, and more confident than ever before in this crazy journey we call life.
While each speaker’s words beautifully honored the life of Joe Paterno, one stood out among the rest for me. Jeff Bast, the first “Mayor Of Paternoville,” had called me the night before to let me know that he would be speaking at the service. Though I do not know “The Mayor” very well, I know of his importance in Paternoville lore. His words hit home for me as he spoke of camping out at Gate A, and also of his desire to represent the Paterno name and the ideals it continues to stand for despite never having known Joe Paterno.
Like Phil Knight, I also have always needed a hero in my life. Fortunately for me, my father has stood proudly in that role for all twenty-two years of my life. Still, I’ve held a select few others in that esteem as well, with Joe Paterno certainly among them. This in itself speaks volume about my opinion of the man, who I never once met.
For months, and especially during the past few days, media outlets have asked me time and time again what Coach Paterno means to me and to Penn State University. Though I still struggle to explain it, Coach Paterno’s passing may have given me part of the answer. You see, his passing should remind us that a man, no matter how wonderful, influential, powerful, and successful, is still just a man. He is a man who lived and died, just like we all will.
We all have the capability to influence others the way Joe Paterno did for so much of his life. We all have the capability to give back, the way JoePa did to Penn State. We all have the capability to help those less fortunate, like Coach did through his involvement with Uplifting Athletes, Special Olympics, and THON, among many other causes. We all have the capability to love and care for our families and significant others, just as Joe did.
I’ve always wanted to be just like my dad ever since I can remember, especially lately as the “real world” creeps nearer and nearer. In many of the same ways, I want to be like Joe Paterno. I want to be the best damn (insert profession here) I can be. I want to inspire and teach those around me in every way possible. I want to find my Sue Paterno, whose tears yesterday broke my heart but also reaffirmed my belief in true love. I want to be “crazy about” my kids and, eventually, grandkids. Don’t worry, Mom, that last part won’t come true for a looong time, I promise.
This week has put me through a lot, testing me both personally and in my various roles at Penn State. Yet, I feel stronger and more prepared for the future than ever before, knowing that I can become Joe Paterno someday by following the lessons he left us.
We Are, and I am, because you were, Joe. Now, “we’ll take it from here.”