Senior Column: Thank You Penn State, It’s Been A Great Run
My Penn State story may be just a little different from yours.
When I was a kid, the Penn State campus was a place to cut through to get from my house to downtown. Growing up with faculty parents and living close by, this university was always a presence in my life.
It boils down to the little things…
Like watching a game at home and muting the TV after a Penn State touchdown to listen to the lion roar and subsequent ‘WE ARE’ chants.
If I close my eyes I can still hear the symphony of cicadas and Blue Band practice on the IM fields from my backyard on warm August nights.
I cannot relate to the thousands who grew up worshiping Penn State always knowing from a young age that they would follow in a parent or sibling’s footsteps and attend this institution. For me, Penn State was the place that hosted cool concerts at Eisenhower, or massive athletic events that I would sporadically attend through the years.
At one point back in the day, when I was a little tike who loved Bob the Builder and yellow hardhats, I used to beg my parents to pull over the car along University Drive where a little construction project was underway. This is why even to this day I’ve always felt a little differently walking into the Bryce Jordan Center.
For years, Joe Paterno was simply the old guy who walked around the neighborhood and would stop to chat or make an offhand joke. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized the magnitude of his reputation outside of State College, or even outside Pennsylvania. More on that here.
Attending grade school in this little Central Pennsylvania town, I was surrounded by a diverse contingent of young people from around the globe — a true anomaly given the regional demographics. My parents are professors. Many of my friends’ parents were professors. Being raised in this way I’ve often found it amusing — particularly early in my college career — at how often friends/classmates would regard professors as being exclusive, even unapproachable. This is why attending office hours was never a big deal to me. To me, professors are people who came over for barbecues, and who bumped glasses with me at holiday parties.
In deciding to come to Penn State, I had to wonder: Will this be different for me? Will being a student at this university feel any different for me than living in State College for the last 18 years?
When I started at Penn State, I began the gradual transition to being just another student. One of 40,000. But I couldn’t escape the townie label, and with it an immovable perspective. Some people joke about how I can’t walk downtown without waving or stopping to talk to a handful of people. But see, I love that.
None of this prevented me from pursuing much that is available to students at Penn State. I became a diehard football fan and loved it. I was a freshman…Then, around the start of sophomore year, I started to realize that there was more available at Penn State beyond the small circle of fellow townies with whom I spent much of my time. I started getting involved in organizations. Something inside of me clicked around this time, and I became a seeker of information and collaboration.
Anyone who knows me well knows that — for good or bad — my passion and my penchant for trying new things has led me to be involved in many groups and organizations which have rewarded me with unforgettable experiences and genuine friendships.
There are more memories than I could ever recall, but I promise to cherish as many as I can. Here are just a few:
Like playing saxophone in a funk band at Zeno’s before I could get in legally.
Or assistant-directing a play as a sophomore, with one of my dearest friends. (Go NRT!)
Rather than sitting at home and foregoing my last opportunity to attend a Penn State away game as an undergraduate, I chose to drive to Lincoln, Nebraska with three of the OS guys I’ve come to know and love. No chance in hell I’ll forget the memories forged on that trip.
Or the ones I had at the NYU Local Young Media Weekend, in April ’11. That weekend cemented my place in the OS family.
This spring, I travelled halfway around the globe to Shanghai and saw things that turned my perception of American ideals upside down. (And in a span of 11 days attempting to survive in China, I actually became close friends with some folks at The Daily Collegian…Crazy, right?)
Yes, it is possible. Here, in this university, it is possible to do things of incredible merit. I’ve been fortunate to work with talented and creative people at nearly every stop I’ve made. You are the ones who will stick with me.
I have learned much both in and out of class. I have learned the importance of collective action and organization, tools for leading groups of people, and seen the benefits of long nights of hard work.
Through these experiences and others, I’ve learned to question. I’ve learned to think critically, both in reporting and in my studies. I’ve learned that it’s not only OK, but imperative, that we continue to question even the most seemingly trustworthy and honorable among our leaders at Penn State and elsewhere. But I’ve also learned the value of a consistent work ethic and the feeling of joy when a successful outcome is produced.
From Onward State, among a million memories and lessons learned, I’ve come to understand that no matter what you publish, there will always be those who will find fault. As I move forward with a career in media, having a thick skin will not only be useful, but truly vital. At OS I’ve learned that through bringing creative people of high character together, you can create something that’s meaningful, something to be proud of while continuing to enjoy pouring hours of time and effort into a silly little college blog that isn’t so little anymore. The people at Onward State join because of their love and commitment to the site, and not simply to pad resumes. I can’t imagine it another way.
In my three years at OS, I’ve been thrown into some pretty remarkable news episodes (volumes, even), both good and bad.
But I’ve also seen passionate and genuine nationalism displayed in our Penn State theater the night Bin Laden was killed. Like many, I held mixed emotions on that night, but nevertheless, I will always remember.
Anyone remember when this guy came here in February 2011?
Davis, Evan, and Eli, you created something remarkable here. I have been honored to help move it along, and as I pass the torch I genuinely believe Onward State will continue to live on for years to come.
Thank you all for an incredible four years, folks. Thank yous are in order for every professor, friend, bartender, colleague, council member, and custodian who chilled with me on long nights in Carnegie. Finally, thank you to everyone I’ve worked with at Onward State. It has been humbling working and getting to know this cast of characters.
The only parting advice I would pass on is simply: “try everything”. Be smart, but if you have a choice between maintaining the status quo and taking a leap, take the risk. I took many chances in four years here, and made mistakes, but I also experienced so much more than I ever imagined as a freshman townie living in North Halls.
As my sister Laura–also a victim of a heavy college course load (but instead at an Ivy)–always reminds me:
“You’re only a college student once, enjoy it.”
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About the Author
Jason Nolf, Bo Nickal, and Anthony Cassar all finished the NCAA Championships atop the podium for Penn State wrestling.
The Rec Hall rafters are starting to get a bit crowded.
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