Looking Up From My Shoes: Gabriela Stevenson’s Senior Column

From the time I was little, my dad would tell me to look up from my shoes and look at where I was going instead. It was a habit I never really noticed I developed until he said something to me about it. When I got to Penn State, I made a conscious decision to start looking up.

That decision served me well when someone threw a golf club out of a window sophomore year and it landed three feet in front of me. It’s helped me navigate the last four years in more significant ways, too.

A few weeks into my freshman year, I was walking around a College of Communications involvement fair, bummed about bombing my interview for Onward State a few days before. Old habits die hard, so the disappointment led me to my shoes again. Just as I was about to walk out, I heard my name being called from across the room. I picked my head up, walked over to the Onward State booth, and nodded my head as they told me I was hired. It was a moment I’ll keep with me forever, and I only have it because I looked up.

Through four years of weird and wonderful parties, fights and make-ups with friends and boyfriends, and all-night editing sessions, I’ve tried to “look up from my shoes.” I’ve tried to look away from what I know, what’s comfortable and what’s familiar, to look at the world around me and the opportunities it holds. That never proved harder than when my dad, the man who tried to instill that value in me, passed away in October 2018 after a long battle with melanoma.

By that time, I saw no reason to look up. I felt like everything was coming down around me, but my shoes were still there. I thought there was no one around me who could ever understand what I was going through — and I was right, in a way. No one could ever know the pain I felt, but my friends know me. They know the best way to show me they care and how to silently support me while I began to handle my grief. When I looked up from my shoes this time, my dad was above me and there were people by my side.

After that, the house I spent my entire life in no longer felt like home. On the drive back to campus a few weeks after the funeral, I looked up to a sunset over State College. This was home now.

After a whirlwind four years, there are a lot of little things I remember looking up at and being so happy to see. To anyone else, they might seem small, but they were the things that shaped my time at and love for Penn State.

There was the time I looked up from my shoes straight into the glory of my first Redifer panini (thanks to Kaitlyn Dividock and Drew Klingenberg for introducing me). There was the night after my last football game in Beaver Stadium when I was looking up at Lowjack performing at the Phyrst and allowing the first wave of “man, I’m going to miss State College” hit me. How about all the times I reminded myself that there’s no wrong time for a beer? These second-long snapshots hang in my mind like the pictures that hung in my East Halls dorm room: brief reminders of remarkable moments.

Looking up has shown me what and who I’m thankful for at Penn State. I’m so thankful for the small mistakes I’ve made, lessons that came from them, and reassurance that none of those mistakes would really matter in five years. I’m thankful for the Gaff, which has tolerated my seemingly unending presence with grace for the last year. I’m thankful for the opportunity to grow as a writer with Onward State and all the people that have passed through staff along the way. Onward State made a lifelong passion and hobby a real experience. Thank you to staff members past and present for tolerating my horrible puns and various antics.

I’ve been writing drafts of this column in my head since I was a sophomore and none of them ever contained thank you remarks to individuals. That’s the blissful ignorance of being an underclassman, I suppose — sometimes you think you’re going to be fine doing it all on your own. Sitting at my computer now, I can’t continue without showing some appreciation to a few of those who have helped me the most along the way:

My mom showed me how strong she is this year and it was more than I ever could have imagined. She has handled massive life transitions with poise and determination and I’m lucky to have a woman like her as a role model.

Elissa Hill, Steve Connelly, and Dana Lipshutz have stuck by me since my freshman year when we somehow started going to parties together. I’ve long said that no matter where we go romantically in life, we’ve got soulmates in each other. Thank you for being my lifelong friends and the easiest targets for roast sessions.

A month before graduation last year, I forged a friendship so dear there was no way I was going to let it die. Trevor Hayes, there aren’t enough words in the world to tell you how much I appreciate your constant flow of love and encouragement. I never knew what having a rock meant until I met you.

I wouldn’t have some of the most treasured relationships in my life if it weren’t for Penn State. It may not be an individual, but it’s a whole. Everything I encountered here, from the Beaver Stadium chicken baskets to the single seats on the White Loop, changed me bit by bit. When I slipped into the motions here, I would look up to see beautiful Old Main plastered against the sky. It never got any less beautiful. It’s a timeless reminder that the things you think you know can still manage to surprise you.

Looking up can be hard to do (especially when your shoes are really cute). When you do, it may not look like what you thought it would. I know now that can be a really great thing.

I ended up by East Halls a few days ago for the first time in a while. Walking down Curtin Road, I looked up and realized I blended in with the freshmen nearby. I had squeezed a lifetime into four years and all the students around me were just beginning that same process. If I could go back there and tell them anything, I would say it’s much better if you learn to look up from your shoes and live.

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About the Author

Gabriela Stevenson

Gabriela is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism and Onward State's former student life editor. She is from Norristown, PA, which she normally refers to as "30 minutes outside of Philadelphia" (she looked up the exact driving time). She enjoys really enjoys eating cereal at night, in case you were wondering. To contact Gabriela, e-mail her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @GabiStevenson if you want to feel young again.

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