As a college student, one of the questions I’ve gotten used to is, “What’s your major?”
For me, this has always been a conversation-starter.
Despite the advice of my mother, I pursued a major in history at Penn State. I have been in the College of the Liberal Arts since I entered the university as a freshman, but have had a love of history for much longer.
I chalk it up to brain chemistry. Growing up in an age of knowledge surplus instead of scarcity, I’m a glutton when it comes to factoids or otherwise interesting new information. I have been for as long as I can remember. History turned out to be a natural outlet for my curiosity. No matter how much time I invested, I could never understand the full story.
I was a history major before I was a blogger, but I was a journalist before I was a history major. You’d be surprised how closely the three are related. While in high school at Lawrenceville (@lville_school) I served as the Sports Editor of The Lawrence, followed by a summer stringing for The Lebanon Daily News (@LDNews).
It was a couple months into school, after a very brief stint at the Collegian, when I finished fleshing out the full original plan for Onward State. Around that time, I was just beginning to get into one of my favorite courses at Penn State — J ST 083S. My freshman seminar, this course was taught by the Harvard-educated Baruch Halpern, one of the foremost scholars on the Old Testament and its origins. Halpern is one of those men whose intellect stuns you; the agility with which he can jump from point to point, transcending disciplines, has not ceased to amaze me in the eight semesters since. It was a feat I aspired to accomplish on my own, but with Penn State’s story instead of the Jewish people’s.
It’s not for me to say whether Onward State was successful in this task, but there are some things I want to tell you, our readers, now that I’ve completed my time here as a student of the Pennsylvania State University. Over the next few days — my final with the unique vision that being a current undergraduate grants me — I want to offer a series of reflective posts about what I’ve learned. I want to try as hard as I might to explain what it has been like to be the creator of Onward State and to see the past four years of Penn State’s history through my eyes. To understand that, though, first you have to begin with me.
Onward State co-founder Evan Kalikow (@evankalikow) and I were assigned to be roommates randomly, or at least according to the official Schreyer Honors College explanation. It’s an implausible defense to me, too, but how can I doubt men and women of such nearly-targumic wisdom?
In any case, Evan and I were friends from our first digital encounter (over the website Lasagna Cat if you must know). To understand our relationship, start with Evan’s senior column. Needless to say, we were naturally bizarre most of the time.
Eli Glazier (@eliglazier), the other co-founder, lived in our hall and was often times the straight-man to our duo. Eli is one of those guys who seems to have arrived at University Park with a nearly-complete idea of what he wanted to do with his life. What’s more than that, he puts forth whatever he’s got whenever there’s an organization he’s committed to, whether it’s Onward State, the Presidential Leadership Academy, or the Penn State Journal of International Affairs. Despite having to put up with my leadership defects, Eli rose to combat whatever fire was hottest each evening while he was editor-in-chief or assigning editor or any other of the various titles we tried during the four-year long experiment that has been Onward State.
Evan, Eli, and I forged a friendship bonded in a common purpose of informing, entertaining, and engaging the Penn State community. The three of us have had a Penn State experience unlike any other. Like a dear friend of mine said to me in an email recently, striking at something I’ve hoped for since we started in 2008: Onward State has managed “to build and grow a brand new community.”
That all began in 43 Simmons, the dorm room Evan and I shared for our first two years at Penn State. That’s where we wrote the majority of posts that were published on the site during those first two years, and that’s where most of the organization’s early history was made.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that time and everything else that has happened over the past four years. It’s a lot to consider. So much has changed since we started; there are enough stories for me to fill a book. There are, however, some topics that I think in general define my Penn State experience. I want to publish a history of my time at Penn State this week, and explain what the past four years have made me feel. I want to tell you, our readers, what I’ve learned, and what I think we still have yet to understand. These posts, though I have been thinking about them for years now, are not written yet, so don’t feel bad about leaving questions or other thoughts in the comments, or by reaching me on Twitter at @davisshaver.