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Started From Altoona Now I’m Here: Mara Kern’s Senior Column

This column is dedicated to my beautiful mother, Linda M. Kern, Momma Kern, or however else you knew her. I would not be the person I am today without you. 

When I think about where I was four years ago, it is hard to imagine that I was dreading coming to Penn State. With a GPA and SAT score right on the borderline of what Penn State expects, I knew there was a chance that I wouldn’t get into the school that seemed to be so perfect for me. I logged on to my account every single day for months to check if my application had been accepted, and finally I logged on and saw the bad news; it wasn’t. I did a stereotypical high school sob, wiped my tears, and emailed Penn State Altoona admissions to see if I could go there instead. It was the closest commonwealth branch campus to University Park, and it would have to do. I e-mailed the admissions office and was told it “should be fine” if I attended Altoona.

I came into my Penn State experience with a bit of dread and a lot of uncertainty. But every person throughout my Penn State journey has left their unique hand print on my life — and for that, I am thankful. Every year I have learned not just in the classroom, but especially outside of it. Here are some of those lessons.

During my freshman year I met people who showed me how easy it is to open up and be goofy. The ones who didn’t mind me drunkenly hiding in their apartments or talking in a British accent. My sophomore year led me to people who have supported me and encouraged me in every way possible. The ones who have picked me up when I was down, and shown me that you can get places by being a genuinely good person, while also showing me everything that I am capable of. My junior year taught me that not everyone is what they seem. You will be let down and people are not always nice, but this is where I learned one of the most important life lessons that I want to share with all of you. You cannot let one, or multiple people define the person that you are. There will always be people who are mean, jealous, spiteful and fake — but it doesn’t matter. Those who are good will outweigh the bad ten-fold.

Which brings me to my senior year. The year in which I knew my life would never be the same. I learned in April of my junior year that my mom’s breast cancer had returned. I knew it wouldn’t be good. I once again sobbed, dried my tears, and did what I had to do to keep swimming, exactly what I knew my mom would want. After a summer working for one of the best companies in the country (in one of the worst places in the country– sorry NJ), I began my senior year knowing things wouldn’t be what they were in years past. This was the year that my involvement with THON ended, partially by choice, partially because of some spiteful people that poison a good cause. I quickly learned who was there for me, and who had never actually been there. I still had those people that had always been there, and I knew the good that I did, and no one could take that away.

Then, on April 5th, 2014, at 12:14 p.m., my mom passed away. What was one of the most difficult times in my life quickly became one of my biggest life lessons. Not only did I receive countless texts, Facebook messages, flowers, and cards, but I had more than 20 people make the journey from Penn State to Pittsburgh to show me what love and friendship truly mean. Without these people that have always been there for me, I don’t think I could have stayed strong for my family. You all are the best people that I know, and knowing that there are people like you going out in the world makes me much less afraid to graduate into the real world.

I will wrap this up with a few lessons that I have learned over the past few years. I know advice from a senior is so cliche, but what can I say, I’m a cliche kinda gal.

1) Be good– This is the simplest advice I can give you. Just be a good person, even when other people aren’t. Hold doors open, say thank you, buy a stranger coffee, and SMILE. You never know when someone is having the worst day of their life, and the difference you can make by just being nice is the most important impact you can have on the world.

2) Get involved– Do something! Anything! If you want to write; write (I highly recommend Onward State — it is a pretty cool group of people). If you want to make a positive impact, join THON, Life Link, Relay For Life, or any other amazing cause you have the chance to be a part of. Which brings me to my next point:

3) Take advantage of every opportunity– Just this past week, I had drinks with a Penn State administrator, hung out with the Offensive Line coach, tweeted back and forth with arguably the best bar band in State College on Twitter (shout out to the Rockets), and gotten my picture with Coach Franklin. Through doing what you love, the possibilities are endless. Through Onward State I have written about everything from water polo to amazing people who continue to inspire me every single day. Go outside your comfort zone and do everything and anything you can- who knows when you will get this chance again?

4) Tell people how much they mean to you- It is a common thing for people to say to “live every day like it is your last”– and you should. Tell your friends how much they mean to you, no matter how cheesy it is. Call your parents and tell them you love them and thank them for every opportunity they have given you. Thank your professors for helping you along and sharing their incredible wisdom with you. Tell your siblings you love them and thank them for their support. Don’t wait for a tragedy or graduation or any other “ending” to tell people how you feel. Do it now.

I will finish this up by thanking all of you — from those of you who have left a mean comment on a post, to the ones who have sent me thank you emails about how much they loved one of my articles. And, of course, the biggest thank you to all of my friends and family. As much as I would love to list all of your names, I’m waaaayyyy to popular to do that. Just kidding, but there really are far too many awesome people out there who I love. Without all of you I would never be where or who I am today. I love all of you, and you have left a paw print on my heart for good.


In memory of Linda M. Kern; September 23, 1956-April 5, 2014, who had more Penn State paw prints on her car than any Penn Stater I know.

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About the Author

Mara Kern

Mara is a senior majoring in public relations with a minor in business. She is from Cranberry Twp., PA and enjoys blogging, cats, tweeting, and not wanting to graduate.

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