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Onward Debates: Which 2014 Senior Class Gift Idea Reigns Supreme?

Last week, the 2014 Senior Class Gift Committee unveiled the three finalists* for the next class gift. All three are very practical choices, but which one is the best?

Our writers attempt to figure it out in the latest “Onward Debates.”

*The voting period began on Monday and concludes on October 18 at 5 p.m. Seniors can vote either here or on the ground floor of the HUB from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. All those graduating in May, August, or December are eligible to vote and donate to this year’s senior class gift.

The Heritage Tree Endowment: Zach Berger

Let me start by saying that the 2014 Senior Glass Gift options are all great. I’ll be satisfied with any of the selections. But one stands out above the rest: The Heritage Tree Endowment. Before I get into what I like about the tree, let’s talk about what I dislike about the other two options.

The first is the Penn State’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Endowment. As someone that has dealt with and still deals with anxiety disorder, I love everything about the idea of a CAPS endowment. This would allow Penn State’s mental health center to stay open later and “provide after-hours counseling.” The center currently lacks the funds to stay open 24/7 for crisis support.

This should happen, but it shouldn’t come from the Senior Class Gift money. The idea behind an annual gift from the senior class in my mind is that the class can contribute something positive to the school and later come back as alumni and visit that something. A CAPS endowment is extremely important, but it doesn’t fit that bill. Instead of funding unnecessary public relations campaigns, maybe tuition raises can go towards something important like this instead.

The next potential Senior Class Gift is the HUB Green Roof Terrace. From what I’ve heard, this would essentially put some benches and greenery on the HUB roof. In theory, that sounds like a great idea. It is, but how long would it be useable for? There are two months at the beginning of the school year before the cold comes and slightly less than that at the end. How often are you really going to go chill on the roof of the HUB? Sure, you’d go once to check it out, you’d sit on a bench for a minute then you’d leave, and you could never go back again.

That leads us to The Heritage Tree Endowment. This fund the protection of the historic trees on our campus, which is extremely important as Dutch Elm disease continues to decimate some of the most beautiful trees at Penn State. If you aren’t aware, Old Main lawn used to have two giant elm trees. It now has one. One of the best selling points for this university is its natural beauty. Take some time one day when you aren’t rushing from one class to another and soak in just how aesthetically appealing the campus is.

The Heritage Tree Endowment would also transplant to campus a fourth-generation descendant of Old Willow, a tree that was planted at Penn State soon after the school’s founding in 1859. According to a sign at the original spot of Old Willow, located on the Allen Street Mall:

“For decades freshmen bowed to this landmark as Penn State’s oldest living tradition. Planted near this site by William Waring in 1859 it fell in 1923 and has been replaced several times by descendants of the original. Legend claims the tree grew from a cutting brought by President Pugh from the home of English poet Alexander Pope.”

By voting for this Senior Class Gift option, you’re both protecting the history that already exists on our campus while also adding onto it. You could come back to Penn State every year and see the growing descendant of a tree that was born during a year in which Charles Darwin first came up with the idea of natural selection, Charles Dickens publishes A Tale of Two Cities, and Oregon was admitted as the 33rd state. Need I say more?

Penn State CAPS Endowment: Ali Fogarty

Earlier this year, we reported statistics on student deaths at University Park. In the 2012-2013 school year alone, six students took their own lives. Organizations like UPUA and Active Minds are making a serious effort to facilitate awareness and productive conversation on mental health and wellness issues students face, yet students can’t rely solely on the counseling services provided to them.

For those who haven’t needed CAPS’s services during their time at Penn State, they aren’t always as accessible. Students seeking help are required to go through a phone screening before meeting with a counselor in person, and I’ve heard of cases where students had to wait multiple weeks to get an appointment. This isn’t acceptable. We should work to develop and expand our mental health services for students rather than treating them as just another to line item to cut away at.

As mentioned on the voting website, funding for CAPS’s after hours services is only secured through the current school year. Crises tend not to operate on regular business hours, and making these resources more available could save someone’s life. The need for support is even felt by CAPS’s staff:

“There is great excitement at CAPS as voting on the three finalist proposals for the 2014 Senior Class Gift takes place this week,” said director Dennis Heitzmann in a statement available on CAPS’s homepage. “The CAPS entry will support critical services for many years to come. Thank you seniors for your continuing support, now and in the future.”

A senior class gift should be able to tangibly better our University and make a significant difference the lives of students for years to come. Campus beautification projects are always nice, but an investment in CAPS’s success will absolutely make a difference in students’ lives. That’s something I am always 100% willing to contribute to.

HUB Green Roof Terrace: Becca Erdman

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like I can never find a seat at the HUB. Whether it’s trying to grab a bite with a friend in between classes, or looking for a place to study at night, the place is always packed. It’s clear the HUB is not big enough for the Penn State student population. Adding more space is a no brainer, but adding more seats on the roof…now that’s just genius. The terrace also provides additional room for organizational programming and will have sustainable architecture. It will create a more calm and relaxing ambience compared to the hectic and always crowded vibe of the HUB downstairs.

Penn State has already made efforts to jump on the Go Green bandwagon and building this roof terrace is the next step in decreasing its carbon footprint. It would reduce the heat island effect that typical roofs create, which means lower energy costs for the maintenance of the terrace. Additionally, it would provide a new habitat for plants, birds, and insects. The space could then be used by certain classes and clubs as a learning facility for observation and research. For the rest of us, it’d be a chill area to stop in between classes or hang out with friends or study before an exam.

All in all, I think a class gift is something that everyone should be able to use — from the seniors who vote for it to all of the future generations to come. A tree is nice, but all you can really do is look at it and maybe use its shade every once in a while. The endowment for Penn State’s CAPS is also very generous, yet the extra hours will not be utilized by a vast majority of the university’s students. Give us a roof with a few benches and add in sustainable architecture and you have a class gift that everyone can enjoy.

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