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Freshmen Look Back On Their First Year At Penn State

While seniors spend these days soaking up their final minutes in Happy Valley, the Class of 2022 has so much of their college career to look forward to…and the experience to know what to expect. They’ve showered with flip-flops, wandered home to East from fratland, and failed a few exams. But they’ve also had a chance to build relationships, find their niches, and make a year’s worth of memories.

We asked some of our freshmen staffers to take a break from studying, packing up their dorm rooms, and using the last of their dwindling meal points to reflect on their first year at Penn State. Here are some of their thoughts, stories, and lessons learned.


Ryen Gailey

I’m a creature of habit. I love having a daily routine, and the idea of suddenly being on my own in college was very scary. But as the first semester started, and I was forced to sweat through the brutal heat in unrenovated Curtin Hall with my roommate Lisa and neighbor Kylie, I realized something. Everything was going to be okay.

I found comfort in the people around me. Everyone here was starting over and needed to make new friends all over again. Yes, there were girls on my floor who I never talked to and the boys on the fifth floor who drove me nuts. But there were also my friends on the third floor who were like my brothers, and my Onward State freshman family who have all impacted me in some way.

Although joining Onward State has been passed down through my actual family with my sister Caitlin and cousin Emma, I joined because I knew the people I’d meet and the experiences I’d get from working for this blog would be unmatched. Quite literally, these people are my family now.

Freshman year has been a learning curve of how to do my own laundry and how to NOT fill up the Brita (hint: it does not involve the bathroom sink). Most importantly, it’s been a learning curve on how to start over and meet new friends. I am beyond excited for what comes next.

Matt DiSanto

Before coming to Penn State, I dealt with a lot of anxiety issues that mostly stemmed from moving three hours away and leaving home and high school behind. I remember talking to my mom with tears in my eyes in the Waffle Shop on North Atherton and telling her that I wasn’t sure Penn State was the right place for me. I was caught up in a whirlwind of doubt and uncertainty, and all I wanted to do was go home.

That all changed once I got involved.

I joined Onward State in the fall, which allowed me to write about things I cared about like football, weather reports, and even a couple of food reviews. I was able to meet some fantastic friends and experience way more opportunities than I had ever thought possible. I never imagined I’d spend more than an hour of my time filming the Mifflin Streak from my dorm window, yet here I am.

Now, I can’t believe I had ever thought Penn State wouldn’t be for me. The friendships and memories I’ve formed over this year make me excited for the future, so much so that I’m sad to be leaving for home soon. I’m a lot less anxious than I used to be. Letting go of that anxiety has allowed me to enjoy my time here and look forward to waking up in Happy Valley each and every day.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that worrying will get you nowhere. Take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy these years while you can. They may just be the best years of your life.

Will Pegler

The fact that freshman year is over is pretty hard to believe. Saying goodbye to my family, attending my first football game as a student, and walking to my first class in Thomas all seem like they happened yesterday.

I still remember exactly how excited I was when I found out I was accepted to Penn State last January. Coming from a Penn State family, I had taken many trips to campus and always known this was the school I wanted to attend. However, as much as I loved everything about State College, I definitely had some nerves toward the end of last summer. As move-in day inched closer and became a lot more “real,” I didn’t feel completely ready to start this new chapter of my life.

Once I finally arrived on campus, I did my best to do what my parents told me: Just get involved. With that advice in mind, I was walking around aimlessly at the College of Communications’ involvement fair last August and saw Onward State’s table. I took a chance and went over. I then applied for a position as a writer and found myself interviewing just a few days later.

Looking back at that moment to now, it’s crazy to think that I had any nerves coming into my freshman year. Joining Onward State gave me the opportunity to meet so many great people and become a part of the Penn State community within days of coming here. Freshman year wouldn’t have been the same without this blog, and I feel extremely lucky that I still have three more years to enjoy it.

Hope Damato

Coming to Happy Valley was an easy decision for me, considering I will be the eighth member of my family to graduate from Penn State.

I was excited to start fresh at a school where only one other person from my high school was going. But actually being on campus was hard for me.

My grandpa went here in the 40s and was the reason I wanted to go to Penn State. I was very close with him and spent many weekends traveling to the town over to visit him. On Christmas Eve of 2017, only four days after I received my acceptance letter, he passed away suddenly. I never got the chance to say goodbye or tell him I was admitted to his alma mater.

On move-in day I felt that he was with me and my family as we hung up his old flags in my dorm room and packed his old sweatshirts under my bed. Walking around campus, I remembered pictures of him by Old Main or in Beaver Stadium, and this pushed me to do my best here and make him proud.

I joined the THON organization Eclipse and spent 32 hours at my first THON. I rushed Delta Zeta and met an amazing group of girls. I joined Onward State and made some of my best friends while improving as a writer. I learned so much during my first year of college — how to live on my own, how to ignore Thirsty Thursday temptations when I had a Friday 9 a.m., how to deal with roommates who cared about only themselves.

I could go on and on about the cliché advice, but I’ll say this: time flies by. Do everything and anything you can, don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve, and keep in contact with your family.

Michael Tauriello

When I first accepted my offer of enrollment into Penn State, I was skeptical about my future. Penn State wasn’t my first choice, but given all of the rejections I had, I decided it was my best option. Now, a year later, I believe that it’s in the running for one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life so far.

My first semester was a lot of learning and adjusting. I was able to quickly learn how to shake my introversion and become friends with people in my hall who have stuck by my side the entire year. I also quickly learned that college is a whole different ballgame academically once I got the first midterm score back in Math 140 (spoiler: it wasn’t good).

The biggest lesson I learned from my first semester is not to be afraid to speak up when you’re having trouble. Everyone has some trouble he/she is dealing with. The ones who break through it, though, are the ones who have sought help to solve that trouble.

The second semester, I decided to step it up and get more involved. I was running around campus a lot more in comparison to the fall semester, and I was doing better academically. Last week, I walked out of the Hammond Building at 11 p.m. and cracked a smile. I was happy with the work I had put in that day. But more importantly, I realized that I’m quite proud of what I’ve built so far in State College in terms of a career, social life, and overall lifestyle.

The people, opportunities, and resources available to students help set Penn State apart from other schools. Sometimes, you just have to be willing to get your hands dirty and try new things in order to find them.

Noah Rogers

Before coming to Penn State, I was told I’d be living, going to class, and attending football games with 40,000 of my closest friends. I thought, “Okay, great. So how do I even meet a close friend?”

When I moved in, I wasn’t only leaving my home and family but all of my high school friends who I’ve grown up with and love more than anything. I left my orientation pretty bummed out and overwhelmed back in June. So when move-in day came, I didn’t really know what to expect.

Looking back now, my freshman year couldn’t have been any better. In my first semester, I joined Onward State and CrossFit Club, both of which became communities I now call my homes away from home.

I’ve met people and done things in my first year that I never thought I would do — namely competing at the University of Delaware, photographing Thomas Rhett and Penn State wrestling, and getting to know a small portion of the 40,000 folks here that I’m lucky enough to call my closest friends.

Mackenzie Cullen

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my first year at Penn State is that you have to put yourself out there. Before my freshman year, I thought I was going to have a large friend group right away while balancing my social life and classes with ease. However, this didn’t happen immediately. I spent most of summer session cooped up in my dorm room thinking about how much I missed my friends and family back home.

When it was time for me to move in for the fall semester, I decided (with my parents’ encouragement, of course) that if I wanted to make friends, I’d need to put myself out there. And thankfully, I became friends with my roommate and two other girls who lived on my floor. I also stepped out of my comfort zone by joining Onward State. Because of this blog, I’ve met the most amazing friends and had countless opportunities that my friends at other colleges will never get.

The second most important lesson I learned is that it’s okay to do things on your own. My parents (hi again, Mom and Dad) told me this numerous times when we talked about how my friends would never want to try new things. It’s important to have a group to rely on, but doing things on your own is just as important because it shows that you’re comfortable enough to take care of your own business.

Rory Pelella

As I write this, I dread needing to pack up my dorm room and officially say goodbye to my freshman year in Happy Valley. The truth is, I wish I could stay here forever — even if that means having to take more finals.

Although most of the past year has been a blur, there’s one thing I can be absolutely sure of: It didn’t take very long for Penn State to feel like home.

Maybe it was standing in the student section at Beaver Stadium for the first time. Or having access to Creamery ice cream the breakfast of champions in the dining halls during every meal. Or maybe it was the amazing friends I met along the way. It’s hard not to fall in love with Penn State once you’re here.

Yes, I lost my room key on a weekly basis and changed my major more times than I can count. But through it all, I couldn’t have asked for a better freshman year. I’ll always be grateful for the times well spent on the fourth floor of Atherton, late-night Yallah runs, morning walks by Old Main on my way to class, and last but not least, this blog. Joining the Onward State family was easily one of the best decisions I made. The people on staff welcomed me with open arms and made it possible for me to continue to develop a lifelong passion for writing.

I can’t say I didn’t expect to love Penn State as much as I do now, but last year at this time, a tiny bit of doubt loomed in the back of my mind. Coming from a Penn State family, part of me always worried I wouldn’t be able to make this school my own, or forge my own path as a student here. Now, as I look back on my freshman year, I realize I had nothing to worry about. There is a place — and a path — for everyone at Penn State, and I can’t wait to keep leaving my own footprints in the years to come.

Patrick Arnold

Freshman year at Penn State for me was the classic case of the big fish in a small pond becoming a small fish in a bigger pond. I went from being secure and comfortable with pretty much everything in my life to contemplating everything I had ever known. After months of being uncertain about friends, living arrangements, and what I wanted to do with my life, I decided to embrace it.

This was the first time in my life that I’ve had the ability to do whatever I want and be whoever I want to be. It was a new, empowering way of thinking that led me to be more open, outgoing, and just more, well, me. So I lived in the uncertainty of everything, trying not to stress too much about the fact that I still felt something missing. What I was missing was a sense of belonging.

It wasn’t until I started working at my job and writing for this wonderful blog that I really felt secure and found my new home here. Whether it was seeing the same sweet faces week after week or renewing my love for journalism, it felt great to feel like I was doing something right.

So while the past two semesters were filled with a bunch of faces I’ll never see again and a bunch of names I’ll never need to remember, I’ll cherish the family I’ve found here and the feeling that I’m finally doing something right.

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About the Author

Staff

Posts from the all-student staff of Onward State.

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