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Freshmen Reflect On Their First Year In Happy Valley

You may be so mesmerized and distracted by elegant seniors snapping their graduation pictures and enjoying their last days in Happy Valley that you forgot about the underdogs. The Class of 2020 is wrapping up its first year as Penn State students this week and whether these experiences were good or bad they certainly were interesting.

We asked our freshmen staffers to pause from their final East Halls shenanigans and reflect. Here are some thoughts, sentiments, and lessons learned from our little Nittany Lions:

Anthony Colucci

When I was in the hospital recovering from viral encephalitis last July, the doctors and everyone around me assumed that I would have to take the fall semester off. My illness caused swelling in my brain, made me lose 25 pounds in a week, and forced me into a medically induced coma. However, I never doubted for a second that I would start my freshman year on time. After all, I had already bought football season tickets and a ticket to the Kanye concert.

I remember talking to my nurses about the orientation I had attended, emailing my randomly assigned roommate between physical therapy sessions right after we matched, and telling the owners of the therapy dog named Hawkeye that Penn State was going to kick Iowa’s ass come November.

And on August 18, one month after being discharged from the hospital, I moved into Beaver Hall ready to tackle my first semester of college.

I was too excited to come to Penn State to wait a semester and I was driven every day in therapy to prepare myself to be able to prove to my parents and doctors that I could live on my own, handle stress, and function academically. Because of this, although I was sad to leave home, I was so grateful to be in college — exponentially more grateful than I had been when I accepted my offer in April.

It wasn’t easy. For my first month living away from home and using a public bathroom 24/7, I had C. Diff as a lingering effect of the medications (by no means fun) and I got tired pretty easily. Nonetheless, I fell in love with Penn State, buying into its culture and throwing myself into this wonderful blog, where I have found my home as well as so many wonderful people.

Last summer, all I wanted was to be able to take full advantage of everything that this great, big, exciting campus offered. And I couldn’t be happier to have been given this blessing of an opportunity to experience all of that this year and for the next three years to come.

Jim Davidson 

My freshman year was a search. I was constantly looking for a lost ID card, a misplaced room key, or a decent pizza place. All of these things, except for the pizza, were easy to find. What proved a more difficult task was finding a group and a specific set of interests to give me a sense of security and belonging.

I wasn’t enamored with the concept of Greek life, my athletic days seemed to be behind me, and I was sure I wouldn’t find a group of friends as tight as the one I’d formed at home. I became frustrated when none of my introductory classes interested me and I hadn’t chosen a major by winter break. I’d found a group of excellent friends, but still felt as if I was lacking the group identity that comes with working on something with others.

I joined Onward State at the beginning of the spring semester, became good friends with the other staff members, and was able to contribute as a writer. Immediately the feeling of isolation disappeared. I was comfortable.

As for my major situation, I’m still undecided and plan to be until I’m forced to make a decision. Freshman year taught me the importance of patience. Fulfillment is rarely immediate, especially in a new place. But with time and effort, it’s possible to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Emma Dieter 

Throughout the entirety of my senior year, I couldn’t wait to get out of high school and start at Penn State. College occupied almost every waking second of my time. But I also remember the month of August rapidly approaching and getting really scared that somehow I was one of the unfortunate few who had peaked in high school. I remember being 30 minutes outside of State College and desperately wishing I still had another 3 hours to go because I couldn’t bare the thought of leaving my family.

But once I got here and started the whole move in process, I couldn’t believe how overwhelmingly exciting the vibe in East Halls was. Girls on my floor were popping in my room, introducing themselves, and talking about all of the cute college guys. I knew then this year would be an experience unlike any other, and I can sit here today and say it undoubtedly was.

I learned so much about life this year — how to live on my own, how to share a room the size of a shoe box with another person, how to do my laundry on the fourth floor of my building because my crush lives there, and so much more. I could probably write a novel with all of the things I’ve learned this year. However, for the sake of your sanity and mine, I think it’s best to leave you with the single most important piece of advice I learned this year: Don’t be afraid to be yourself.

They’re not wrong when they tell you college is the time of your life. But you won’t get to make the most of it if you don’t go out there and live it for yourself. I’ve experienced more in this one year of college than all of my previous 18 years of life. My only regret now is that I won’t get to start next semester as a freshman again.

Mikey Mandarino 

As my freshman year comes to a close, I can confirm that my decision to come here was the best decision I ever made because of the people I’ve met here, the organizations I’ve been a part of, and the friendships I’ve made. I knew my roommate in high school, but I really got to know him this year as we made 912 Pinchot Hall home.

During the fall semester, I joined the Penn State Hockey Management Association just to join a club and have something to do in my free time. While working directly with the men’s and women’s hockey teams, I met an amazing group of people who are now my closest friends. Although HMA won’t be back at Pegula every weekend next season, you guys helped me feel like part of the Penn State community, and for that, I will always be grateful.
In the spring, I decided to join Onward State and become part of this wonderful staff. Onward State has taught me so many things that I never knew about myself. It taught me that I really suck at coming up with story ideas, and it taught me that I really enjoy watching and writing about women’s lacrosse, but more importantly, it also taught me there’s so much to the art of journalism beyond telling people the news.
Before this semester, I wanted to be a sports journalist just because I thought I was good at it. Now that I’m on a beat and covering a team for an outlet like this, I’ve learned that sports journalism is a ton of fun, and my work with Onward State has helped me confirm my dream of becoming a sports journalist.

Mitch Stewart

My freshman year has been exhausting in the most beautiful way imaginable. I called the Blue-White game for CommRadio, rode a bus to Indy with my friends to watch Saquon cook T.J. Watt on a beautiful wheel route and bring home the Big Ten title, covered THON #ForTheBlog, and experienced the Clown and Ohio State rallies up close.

In just a year, I’ve had more experiences than I could’ve hoped for in a lifetime at this campus. I’m lucky to have such amazing friends from so many amazing backgrounds here in Happy Valley, and the memories made this year will last me a lifetime. I can’t wait for fall and even more opportunities to do what I love.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s to start strong. It’s much easier and better for your well-being to do well at something in the beginning and relax towards the end than it is to have to make up for a poor beginning, regardless of what the subject is.

Alison Swiggard

My first semester of freshman year was a little rough. I started the year with a completely different major than I am now, and within the first two weeks of college, I knew I was in the wrong major. I knew that I shouldn’t be worried, because I knew I had a lot of time, but it still sucks being in classes for a major you don’t have a passion for anymore.

By the second semester, I had this campus figured out. I knew it forward, backwards, and sideways, and I had made so many new friends. I joined clubs and groups and met so many cool and amazing people, and because of this, I enjoyed my second semester so much more. I honestly was kind of freaking out my first semester because I felt like I hadn’t found my people yet. But the campus is so huge, you’re bound to find someone that you click with.

It takes time to get used to the curveballs college can throw at you, but don’t panic. You’ll get through it, as long as you keep and open mind and stay optimistic.

Cori Bugenhagen 

Looking back on this year, I can honestly say it was the best year of my life so far. Coming to a huge school like Penn State (which I didn’t even visit) ended up better than anything I ever imagined. From feeling the roar of the crowd at Beaver Stadium after the first touchdown of the year to walking into your first frat party, everything is a constant thrill.

I can remember hating East when I first arrived on campus, but now I’m actually dreading leaving. I would gladly shower in flip flops for four more years if it meant I could continue to live a short walk from my friends and Findlay Commons.

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About the Author


Posts from the all-student staff of Onward State.


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