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Finding Your Penn State Beyond Penn State: Carolyn Popescu’s Senior Column

For some perspective on where my past four years have taken me: My first semester as a freshman was spent in Stone Hall, East Halls — where each night a lullaby of drunkenly-fueled “Penis Chants” filled the air. My last semester as a senior was spent in Hollywood, a mile or so from the walk of fame.

I attended Penn State a bit blindly — the youngest of three sisters to go. My two siblings were infatuated instantly and came out successful and happier than ever,so as a lost 18-year-old, it was a safe decision that offered many paths to personalize. However, it wasn’t instantly “Happy Valley” for me. It turned into something just like that, something great — but it took conscious effort and patience on my part.

At first the town felt exciting, but slowly began to feel like a West World-esque monopoly town revolving around staged loops of football, Greek life drama, and THON worships. (Sorry, did that escalate quickly?) I found the weather to be exceedingly volatile and uncomfortable. I thought the location was too far from any urban metropolis or interesting town to experience some change. The homogeneity of the area and act of being around only 18-22-year-olds drove me a little nuts. That’s because I had yet to process that “Penn State” and “State College” did not go hand in hand.

It is so easy to define Penn State as a bubble of similar people and three major interests and sensations — and though that may describe State College, Pennsylvania to some extent, I found it does not define Penn State. I once searched “Activities to do in State College” and the top results were:

  1. Beaver Stadium
  2. University Park
  3. Downtown State College

My Freshman Self: “BUT WHAT ELSE?!?!!”

After sucking it up and putting in the hustle, I found my what else. I found Onward State because I loved writing and needed to meet new people. 160 or so articles later I found A LOT ELSE. I found EVERYTHING else I had been so convinced wasn’t out there.

And if you’re a cynical, miserable little freshman missing your high school friends and feeling lost, let me tell you WHAT ELSE I found once I stopped making judgements, zipped up my big-girl parka, and put in the effort…

What Else?

I FOUND MUSIC.

State College is the last major market in mind for a lot of touring artists — but I found music. I found local talent, aspiring musicians, and many organizations that made it all happen.

I found myself face to face interviewing a band I loved when I was a new contributor.  I found myself working for Sony Music in New York for a summer, meeting incredible people who helped me stay with the Sony Music family as a College Marketing Representative for State College — something I was so quick to assume didn’t even exist because State College isn’t conventionally “urban” or “music-central.”

Sometimes I looked too hard for music and sometimes it was performing a few hundred feet outside my dorm; other times it was sitting five feet away.

I FOUND ART.

I found painters and filmmakers and a librarian-super-hero-trading-card-graphic-designer.

I found the art that makes you laugh. I found comedy from near and far.

I found the integrative arts program, that allowed me to take my mish-mosh of artsy interests and obscure class choices into a duel degree with communications, and funnel my artistic side into a focused path that made long-term sense.

More importantly, I even found the art of squirrel whispering. 

I FOUND TRAVEL.

My parents said to avoid studying abroad but some of us did it anyway. 

I traveled to outer space and beyond with Bill Nye The Science Guy.

I found things underwater. Some were shaking their bellies in the white building. I found “what else” in a fluffy form named Madame Smackers.  On occasion my “what else” was dancing with Justin Bieber. Sometimes I found my “what else” in an elderly home.

I found Penn State beyond Penn State. I found the Hollywood Program and the unbelievable people and experiences from it. I spoke with an inspiring alum who took Tinsel Town by storm, and STILL followed up to meet me (2 years later, on his way to a meeting with Warner Brothers…) when I found myself in Los Angeles.

I FOUND THE BEAUTY IN WHAT I FIRST DISMISSED.

It was easy to write State College off as a pretend town of semi-adults with their sensational interests, but…

I dove deep into THON, spent 2 years on committees, and saw the massive values and stories that lay beyond the cliques and politics. I stopped focusing on the petty things and saw the special small details.

I learned to embrace the silly little things, the local flavor, and scenery.

I gave football a chance…even if I had to make it relate to Rugrats. (No I didn’t mean “Rutgers,” I really do mean the Nickelodeon show with babies.)  I forced myself to understand the dynamics and workings of this place in a whimsical, entertaining language I knew.

I screamed “WE ARE” around campus until it felt right.

I FOUND THE PENN STATE BEYOND “PENN STATE.”

I found a Penn State alum who was a supervisor at my first internship with RED Music. I found out the vice president of my department at Nickelodeon in Times Square was an alum. The director in my department at the agency PMK BNC in Bevery Hills was a Penn State alum. A little Japanese boy wearing a Penn State hat in the suburbs of Tokyo on my hike to see the Buddha statue may just be an alum one day.

We were all strangers with an instant connection — a similarity bigger than a mutual friend, LinkedIn Connection, or frivolous hobby. It’s a shared foundation, shared emerging adulthood, shared alma mater, shared drunk food location, shared story.

I found the alumni connections and fierce loyalty to Penn State all over the globe — and the best part is, I have yet to even scratch the surface of this goldmine. I only just entered the world as a Penn State alumna, and the connections I’ve accumulated already thanks to the university are dumbfounding. I can not begin to fathom how much larger my humble “What Else?” list will become.

You might not find the Penn State you love right away. You might not find the Penn State you love in State College. You might not find it being joyously thrown in the air at a football game. You might not even find it during the tear-jerking and momentous occasions like the THON final four hours, and not feeling it during these moments might make you feel like the blackest sheep in a field of blue and white.

But someday down the road you may find yourself starting your new dream job in a brand new city where nobody knows your name. You’ll introduce yourself to a sea of new colleagues and intimidating strangers, feeling lost and anonymous. But when that one face of a “stranger” lights up to greet you with a warm “WE ARE!” and smile of recognition? You can find your Penn State there, too.

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About the Author

Carolyn Popescu

Current senior studying Advertising and Visual Arts, Carolyn has a passion for entertainment and music. She also loves photography, film, graphic design, social media, and all things in between. She's the current Sony Music Marketing Representative for State College, so be sure to reach out to her with any local music scene questions, ideas, proposals, or if you just need someone to geek out about music with.

(Contact her through [email protected] or [email protected])

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