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Get Out There And Meet People: CJ Doon’s Senior Column

During my first visit to University Park when I was still in high school, I was eating breakfast at the Diner with my parents when two familiar faces walked in. One a Penn State legend, the other a now-hated rival: Todd Blackledge and Urban Meyer.

It took me a few seconds of awkward staring and double takes to finally confirm the unlikely pair that just walked through the door. They found their way to the back of the restaurant and sat down at a booth, surprisingly not drawing any attention from other patrons. I stared at my parents in disbelief, and after some words of encouragement, I finally worked up the nerve to get up and introduce myself.

I shook their hands and asked a few questions, and even wondered aloud whether Meyer was in State College looking for a place to live for a possible new coaching gig. Obviously a different set of circumstances led to Bill O’Brien and James Franklin becoming the 15th and 16th head coaches respectively of the program, but at the time, I walked out of the Diner with the autographs of a national championship winning quarterback and who I thought was the university’s future head coach.

Coming from a small town, having the opportunity to meet and interact with new faces — let alone famous ones — was something I rarely had the chance to experience. Melissa Joan Hart went to my elementary school, a guy from my town won Survivor, and I think the actor who plays Fonzie may have visited one of my high school’s football games for reasons I’m still unsure of. That’s pretty much it. Outside of the first day of school, there were few opportunities to meet new people. The people I shared kindergarten and middle school classes with were the same people I walked across the stage with at my high school graduation. You can imagine my excitement for the opportunity to attend Penn State’s LEAP program the day after commencement, and with it the chance to see 40,000 new faces.

I’ve always been a shy person and feel nervous speaking to others for the first time, so it’s strange I chose journalism as my intended profession, but I couldn’t be happier with that decision. I have my high school English teacher Mrs. Petrone to thank for teaching me the basics of journalism and planting the seed that would eventually grow into a print journalism degree I received just last week at Bryce Jordan Center, but my passion for writing and meeting new people came from within. Whether it’s natural curiosity or fear of the spotlight, I’m not sure, but I’ve always been more comfortable asking questions rather than answering them. Interviewing interesting people — friends, family, or strangers — is an enjoyable activity that I hope to turn into a living. At Penn State, I was afforded the opportunity to follow that passion — and then some.

Whether it was chatting with wildly successful entrepreneur professors who love video games, discovered planets, or created a 60’s comedy sci-fi movie, to meeting students and aspiring sommeliers who make home-vinted wine, practice trivia in their spare time, and compete on Jeopardy!, to documenting the quietly impressive Penn State fencing dynasty, and telling the harrowing tale of a soccer player’s snowboarding accident and inspiring recovery, I’ve met incredible people thanks to this university, and am grateful to have shared their story here for you, the readers. If there’s one regret I take with me, it’s that I didn’t meet enough people.

Go talk to people. That’s really the best advice I can give to any college student, whether you’re an incoming freshman or entering your final semester. Even if you’re not a journalism major, there’s value to be gained from conversations. At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, there’s more to be gained from talking with someone face-to-face than through email or text. You’ve probably been told countless times to visit your professor during office hours, but seriously, you should actually do it. They have plenty of interesting things to say and stories to tell outside of class when they’re not thinking about lecture and homework assignments, and they really appreciate your enthusiasm. They’re going to be the ones you turn to when you’re looking for work, and you better believe they’re going to go out of their way to help you if you’re friendly. Outside of professors, there’s tons of resources like CAPS to visit if you need a listening ear, and hundreds of student interest organizations (Onward State included!) that are bound to offer something interesting for you to try. There’s no excuse not to join.

Chances are if you read this website, you know just how incredible Penn Staters can be. If you have an interest in any particular field, do some research and find some alumni who are currently working the job and living the life you want. Pick their brains and find out what they did to get there, how they like it, and what advice they can offer to someone just starting their academic and professional career. You never know what you might learn. Penn State boasts the largest dues-paying alumni group, but what good is that statistic if you don’t take advantage of it?

Oh, and don’t take State College for granted for even one second. While Happy Valley to outsiders is just another small college town in the middle of Pennsylvania with a peculiar nickname, its attraction is indescribable. From the obvious joys of Saturdays at Beaver Stadium and the final four hours of THON, to more subtle pleasures like long walks through the trails around the Penn State golf course and Sunset Park, hikes up Mt. Nittany, KanJam on Old Main lawn, and the three years I spent moving from apartment to apartment on N. Barnard Street and Clay Lane with some of the best friends I could ever ask for.

Looking back through the archives of the more than 200 posts I’ve written for OS, I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to serve as an editor. Most of what I’ve learned about writing I owe to the people on this masthead, and without their careful guidance, I’d still be writing about Penn State football for some no-name website with a dozen readers. Whenever I was feeling stressed, what motivated me most was getting one of my posts on the homepage slider. Waking up and seeing my story selected as one of the four best of the day by the editors was more encouraging than any feedback I ever received in class. When I was struggling to find my voice, it validated my work.

When I think about the past Onward State bylines and the incredible things those people have gone on to achieve, I feel inspired to do the same. Everything about this organization is outrageous fun, and at this point, all I have are the memories to take with me. I wish I joined OS sooner, because the two years I spent on staff ended like a swift crack of the bat. Leaving Penn State will be even harder. Sometimes I wake up, smell that green grass, and think to myself — is it real?

The accomplishments I’m most proud of after graduation are not my GPA, number of credits, or class projects. It’s the posts I’ve written for Onward State, and I’m happy to say I did it for love of blog.

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About the Author

CJ Doon

CJ is a senior journalism major from Long Island and Onward State's Sports Editor. He is a third-generation Penn Stater, and his grandfather wrestled for the university back in the 1930s under coach Charlie “Doc” Speidel. Besides writing, one of his favorite activities is making sea puns. You can follow him on Twitter @CJDoon, and send your best puns to [email protected], just for the halibut.

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