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Erase Your Expectations: Dan McCool’s Senior Column

It’s no secret that Penn State is steeped in tradition. Sure, there are things like cheering for the blue and white and having your picture taken at the Lion Shrine, but there are also other “traditions” that come with Penn State, like red cups, late-night trips to Canyon Pizza, and the kind of social life associated with those two.

I came from a very small high school in Boston and was insistent on going to the opposite kind of school, and even more insistent on associating with “normal” people. I refused to join any clubs because I was afraid of hanging out with one-dimensional people who only had one interest, and I wanted my friends to come organically, either from orientation or my floor of Sproul Hall, or maybe some other chance, unstructured encounter. That didn’t happen.

I had very specific expectations for how Penn State was going to go, because everyone I knew who had gone here had always talked about how much they loved Penn State specifically. I thought everything was going to just fall into place. So when those weren’t met, I was really disappointed.

So, I guess my point is this: Don’t worry about what you should be doing, or how what you’re doing is going to fit into the cadre of college — or Penn State, for that matter — predetermined by our culture. Go make your own Penn State, without any expectations; you’ll be much happier.

I joined Onward State in January 2010 after ripping off Evan Kalikow for an economics textbook on the UPUA Book Exchange (I know I’m dating myself here). I found a link on a list of Penn State blogs on a website I don’t even remember, and at that time, we were something like The Farmer’s High School of blogs: small and relatively unknown. But we had character and drive and we could tell a story from an angle unique to the student perspective. And we did. I never expected Onward State to grow to where it is today, but I couldn’t be more pleased with it. Being the resident old man on staff, I’ve seen so many fine writers and editors come and write for us, and I’ve seen so many good people and great friends come and go as well. Having a part in making this site what it is, though, is something I’ll forever be grateful for.

Pretty much all of my favorite things at Penn State were completely unexpected or just without subscribing to any model or “tradition.” Ironically, some of my favorite times in college were away from Penn Sate, when I studied abroad in Leeds, England and otherwise bounced around Europe with varying degrees of mischief. I never would have guessed I’d be navigating the ups and downs of living in a nine-person apartment with only one fridge. I never would have guessed that I’d graduate college in five years with a master’s degree as well as a bachelor’s degree, nor that I would teach English 015 at the age of just 22. I never guessed how rewarding it would be to be a driving force behind Penn State media and calling out UPUA’s 5th Assembly and staying up late editing comma splices. Putting out good work, and being able to see that people were reading our work not just once, but multiple times(!) kept me coming back.

But while it was also really satisfying to put out quality news stories every morning, in a fresh medium that was quickly gaining attention, I also never guessed that I would be playing dodgeball or going on hayrides or tailgating with all the people who worked with me there, as well as the people I graded papers with. That’s what really sticks with me, and it’s some of what I’ll miss the most. All those unexpected surprises really made Penn State what it is to me.

So, thank you to everyone who helped me along the way, through struggling to find my way at Penn State, and after finding it. I’ll miss you more than you know.

About the Author

Dan McCool

Dan is a senior and has been writing for Onward State since January 2010. Did you miss him? Nah, neither did we. He's returning after a semester abroad in England and will be serving as Arts Editor. Favorite things in life include references to The Big Lebowski.


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