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A Special, Precious, & Eventful Experience: Lexi Shimkonis’ Senior Column

I’ve never been the best writer at Onward State. It has always taken me too long to write breaking news stories and I’ve never been able to eloquently explain how deeply I really care about something in a column.

As such, I don’t know what to say in this senior column. I’ve actually been thinking about what I would write in it since I was a freshman and I first started to read senior columns. I didn’t know that joining a student media outlet would afford me the chance to write one, but I’ve known ever since it would be the story that meant the most to me, even if I could have never known until this moment what it would say.

Sometimes I think about all of the people who I want to include in it and how I could possibly relay just how much they mean to me or how much they’ve influenced my time here.

Sometimes I consider focusing on the advice I would share with others who get to experience this magical place. To student leaders I would say not to take everything so seriously, as it will truly never matter in the grand scheme of your life. To those not quite as involved I would say to give yourself to the university and your time here — not just the football games and the partying, but the opportunities to make the Penn State experience better for all students, current and future.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll focus on Penn State’s history and how I had the chance to be an incredibly small part of it. I’ve come to value the story of our founders and our campus, and any platform to share that history could only be valuable. 

Often, though, I wonder how I could possibly write a column that is unique. I’m afraid that my words won’t be enough to sum up just how great the last four years have been and that nothing I write would do my experience justice. I know to some degree that is true for everyone, but I’ve always wanted this column to not only mean something to me, but to others who have been lucky enough to call Penn State home.

The story I always tell people about my Penn State experience is that I actually never wanted to come here. I had only applied because of the engineering program and ultimately enrolled because it was a big school that was in-state. I remember my parents being proud of me for making an economically-sound decision. I moved in expecting to be miserable for four years, get my degree, and get a good job. After all, a university education is just a means to an end, or so I thought.

I was ready for college. I was ready for independence and the opportunity to decide what I wanted to do every morning when I woke up. Though there was plenty of that my first semester, I can’t imagine myself being as sheltered as I was those first 16 weeks. I can count on two hands the number of times I went downtown, and one hand the number of tailgates I went to. I didn’t care about Penn State. I was still focused on getting my degree and getting out.

After trying a few clubs that didn’t work out, I applied for Onward State in the spring of my freshman year and that’s when my time here began to transform. The seniors I met that year inspired me not only to love this blog, but to love life, to love Penn State. Moreover, they showed me that I’d be able to do that through covering the stories of the people and places that make up this university. I became so invested because I finally found a group I fit in with and a mission I cared about — generating honest conversation in hopes of enriching the Penn State community.

Four years later, I’m proud to have had the opportunity to leave Penn State a little better than I found it. Onward State gave me a platform to highlight the greatness of this University but also shed light on some of its problems.

We all come here because we have different strengths, and with those strengths we are afforded the chance to make Penn State a better place. I think I was able to do this through Onward State and the people I’ve met because of it. And it wasn’t just in the stories I wrote — everything I’ve learned because of my roles in this and other organizations have allowed me to share conversations with other Penn Staters about what we can do differently to improve Dear Old State for the future. 

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words why Penn State is so important to me. I find value in its history, in its mission, and in its people. I may never have more pride in anything than saying that I am a Penn State alumna.

I am so honored to say now that I got so much more out of Penn State than just my degree. Sure, I learned enough about civil engineering to get a job doing something that I am passionate about, but I also learned about tradition, pride, loyalty, and how to stand up for what I think is right and valuable. I also met some people who influenced and shaped my life more than I could ever explain, just a few of whom I would like to thank specifically.

To my parents: I’m grateful for all of the encouragement and support for the past four years; this experience and my degree would have never been possible without both of you. I just really hope you don’t bring foam fingers on Friday.

To Maggie DeWitt: You’ll forever be the most important person I met at Penn State, and I’m so grateful for your friendship the past four years. I wish we were able to graduate together this weekend. (She’s in a five-year program.)

To Tim Gilbert: You’re the reason I fell in love with the idea of Onward State and worked so hard to continue its mission. You’re also the reason I didn’t become interim managing editor my sophomore year, and I’ll always appreciate that.

To Kevin Horne: Thank you for teaching me what it means to be a great Penn Stater — the lessons I’ve learned from you go far beyond Onward State and Penn State. College would have been very different without all of the good beer and always-open apartment to crash at.

To Brent, Alex, Jen, and Kyleigh: You all made senior year the most fun, care-free, spirited year that I didn’t know I needed. From Ohio to the booths of Local, thanks for being my best friends.

To Matt: I met a lot of great people this semester, but I’m so glad that you were one of them.

Though it would be impossible to sum up a place as grand and important as Penn State or any one person’s experience here in one line, I’ve found Ross Lehman’s attempt the best: “And here in this lovely, intriguing spot called Penn State, each of us staked our own special, precious, and eventful life.”

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Penn State. For everything. 

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About the Author

Lexi Shimkonis

Lexi is an editor-turned-staff writer who can often be found at either Irving's or the Phyrst (with the chances she'll have her backpack being the same). Lexi is a senior hailing from Spring City, PA (kind of) and studying Civil Engineering. Please email questions and/or pleas for an Instagram caption to [email protected], or for a more intimate bond, follow her on Twitter @lexshimko.

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