Senior Column: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Things Have a Weird Way of Working Out
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to attend Penn State University.
I remember being a kid and sitting in my living room on bright, sun-soaked Saturday afternoons and watching the Nittany Lion football team on my TV. Something seemed mystical about it all.
Both of my parents went to small colleges in New Jersey, so there was never any affiliation with college athletics in my household. For a kid whose life revolved around sports, I needed a college team to follow. Penn State became my team.
My dad was cool enough to buy tickets, and in November 1999, when I was eight years old, I first stepped foot in Beaver Stadium (some guy named Tom Brady led Michigan to a comeback win). Penn State was where I was destined to be.
A few years later, my sister decided to attend Penn State Altoona. By the time she made it up to main campus in 2007, I was a junior in high school getting ready to take the SAT’s and figuring out where I wanted to go to college. Penn State was clearly at the top. That was, until, I was rejected.
I was a slacker in high school. I was the kid with all of the intellectual tools but none of the motivation. By the end of my junior year, I somehow managed to elevate my GPA to 3.1. I hoped that, coupled with a very good SAT score, would get me into University Park, but I came up short.
At that time, if I wasn’t going to main campus, I wasn’t going to Penn State. Plain and simple. After hearing back from various other schools, I decided I would attend Indiana University in Bloomington. My Dad could tell, though, that I was feeling uneasy about it all. He convinced a stubborn me to take my visit to Penn State and Penn State Altoona. After that, I couldn’t pass up the school of my dreams. Thanks Dad.
“Everything happens for a reason” is a cliché that makes me cringe every time I see or read it, but there are times where that thought really cannot be denied. Getting turned down from University Park and ending up in Altoona is where that cliché applies to me.
I owe a lot of who I am today to those two years I spent in the godawful town of Altoona. Looking back, there is no way I could have handled my first semester at a campus of 40,000, because I barely made it through a semester at a campus of 4,000. I thought moving 250 miles away from my hometown full of people I grew to despise (save for a close group of friends) would get me out of the never-ending funk that lingered in my life, but it wasn’t that simple.
In my first two months at Altoona, I gravitated toward guys from my area who I already knew, and if it weren’t for one of these guys I associated myself with fucking up royally (no details needed), I wouldn’t have met the group of people who are still my best friends to this day. Depression is no joke, and I was falling deeper into my own head full of insecurities and inadequacies. To my whole Altoona crew, who simply befriended me: thank you. You may not even know it, but you saved me.
I remember the day I moved to State College for the second summer session in June 2011. My buddy and I cruised down the final stretch of Route 322 and we didn’t have to drive past the “Route 26 – State College” exit and continue on toward Altoona as we were accustomed to. We made it. State College was now our home. It was a feeling of such satisfaction that I can’t truly put into words.
Sometimes language is an inadequate way to express feeling. Words just cannot describe that feeling deep inside my gut sometimes when I think of a place like Penn State and how it has shaped me. It’s crazy to think that fewer than two years later, it is all coming to an end.
It feels like I just got here.
For almost as long as I knew I wanted to attend Penn State, I knew I wanted to be a sportswriter. When I arrived at University Park with no writing experience as a junior, I knew I had to act fast to find my voice as a writer and to get some experience so I joined Onward State. The circumstances of joining were one of those happy accidents you can’t explain. I ran into Davis Shaver, the founder of Onward State, at a friend’s apartment. I had no idea who he was, but I knew of the site, and I already planned on trying to join once the fall semester rolled around. I found out who he was, asked to join, and a few weeks later my first post was published.
Onward State molded my voice and gave me the confidence to go after this goal of mine — to be a sports writer. Onward State was the launching point for the other opportunities I’ve gotten over the past few years. Most notably, I freelanced for my hometown paper, the Bucks County Courier Times, and got to cover the most important season of Penn State football ever — a team that taught me about perseverance, brotherhood, and loyalty. I was fortunate enough to cover that 2012 team in Beaver Stadium — where I was destined to be. I’ll never forget it.
Thanks to everyone at Onward State. We should all be proud of the growth we exhibited as a website and as people over the past few years. I wouldn’t have wanted to work with any other group of people. I’ll be reading next year and beyond.
“On this life that we call home, the years go fast and the days go slow.” – Heart Cooks Brain by Modest Mouse
Isn’t it funny sometimes how a week can feel like an eternity but a period of years can feel like an instant? My time in Happy Valley feels like it went by so fast, but some of those days and weeks last year were long as hell, weren’t they? Scandal hit Penn State, and it hit Penn State hard. You know the details, but walking home down a College Avenue littered with dozens of news vans wasn’t the scene I envisioned for my first fall semester, but it was reality.
The scandal affected everyone in different ways, but to me it gave me the chance to take a step back and measure my priorities. Things that were important to me, like the outcome of a sporting event, all of a sudden, were trivial. In the grand scheme of things, whether Penn State wins or loses on a Saturday doesn’t quite matter to me as much it once did. I expanded on some of these feelings in a column when the sanctions hit last summer. A little bit of perspective on what is important goes a long way.
Beyond that, the scandal showed me the true character of this University. I’ve learned from world class professors. I’ve met my best friends in the world. I’ve stood in solemn solidarity among thousands at a candlelight vigil for sexual abuse victims. I reported from press row as my classmates stood on their feet for 46 hours to raise money for pediatric cancer at THON. That is what Penn State is all about.
These experiences molded me into the man I have become. I still have many roads to travel, but the one that led me from the suburbs of Philadelphia to Altoona to State College has been a scenic one so far.
And if there is one thing I’d like someone to take away from this way-too-long “column,” please just remember how lucky you are. Look around. Appreciate your friends. Appreciate your family. Understand how lucky and fortunate you are to attend a University like this. Take a step back and consider the perspective of another. Don’t sweat the small stuff, because things always have a weird way of working out.
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About the Author
College GameDay will move to the HUB lawn after spending the past two White Out weekends on Old Main lawn.
Sam Ficken’s winding football journey has taken him from Indiana to New York with several stops in between. Now, as a Jet, he’s finally settled down in a consistent role.
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