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Dive In: Mikey Mandarino’s Senior Column

As my friends have gotten to know throughout my life, I am not a risk taker in any way, shape, or form.

I keep very tight circles of friends both at home and in State College, and they really don’t expand all that often. Sometimes, I’ll spend 20-30 minutes aimlessly fumbling through Netflix knowing I’ll end up watching a random episode of “The Office” for the 15th time. My friends have a really hard time convincing me to try something new instead of going to the same old restaurant or bar (read: Gaff) that I know and love. If you haven’t gotten the idea yet, I have very clearly-defined boundaries that I rarely overstep.

But the reason why this senior column exists – and, really, why the last four years of my life went the way they did – is because I just dove in.

In my mind, joining Onward State was a huge risk back in the spring semester of my freshman year. I vividly remember pushing back my interview because I honestly wasn’t sure I even wanted to pursue a career in journalism anymore. Although nobody told me I was about to get fired, I knew deep down that I hadn’t invested enough into this blog after my first semester with Onward State. In order to stay on staff, I sort of dove in again by putting all of my eggs into the basket that’s truly defined my college career throughout that following summer.

As they say, the rest is history.

If I never dove in, I wouldn’t have had the chance to work in venues like AT&T Stadium, Heinz Field, The Shoe, Michigan Stadium, and of course, Beaver Stadium. If I never dove in, I wouldn’t have spent way too much time writing more than 1,300 posts for this website.

Most importantly, I wouldn’t have met some of the most important people in my life had I chose not to dive in.

I definitely took nicer photos with my friends on the football beat — (left to right) Will Pegler, Shannon Soboslay, and Matt Sniegowski — but this is my favorite one. Those six-hour road trips, ~suspect~ hotels, and goofy selfies wouldn’t have been the same without you guys.

I wouldn’t have developed the confidence to take risks and put myself out there without the people I’ve met through Onward State. I’d need six senior columns to thank everyone who’s helped me over the last four years, so those of you who aren’t listed below should expect a sappy email or text from me in the coming weeks.

  • Alex Bauer: There’s no other way I could start the “thank you” section of my senior column (I probably could’ve started with my family, but they can wait). You’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and I’m so glad you were my mentor during my first semester on staff. Whether it was an invitation to your house in Florida for spring break, workshopping my résumé with me at midnight on a random Tuesday, daylongs at that glorious West College Ave. home of yours, the truly-elite White Out tailgates your family hosts, or the wisdom and guidance you give, I’ll always cherish our friendship.
  • David Abruzzese & Ethan Kasales: I’m so glad you guys are still around in State College despite being old graduating before me. I owe a ton of the success I had as an Onward State writer to you two. David – we unfortunately never covered a sport together, but you truly took me under your wing during my early days on staff. Ethan did, too, and I don’t think I can accurately quantify how much I learned from you guys. Beyond that, you are both incredible people who were my first two super-close friends on staff. I’m so glad you guys are part of my life to this day, and I can’t wait for the next night we spend at Zeno’s.
  • Derek Bannister: My first partner-in-crime on the Penn State football beat – along with Ethan, of course! That 2018 football season wasn’t the greatest in Penn State’s history, but working alongside you was so rewarding and a ton of fun. At least the Citrus Bowl road trip was a good time before, you know, the football game happened. Thank you for being a calming, rational presence in my life whenever I got Mad Online (or offline) about something dumb. Here’s to all of the New York City dinners and bar runs we’ll go on with Perry in the future.
  • Elissa Hill, Steve Connelly, Tim Reams, & Gabi Stevenson: It’s hard to pick out a warmer, smarter, and more fun group of people to look up to during a time as confusing and new as college. Whether it was Elissa’s constant feedback, Steve and Gabi’s unending desire for me to just stop yelling, or Reams’ almost-undefeated life advice, thank you all for your friendship. The Gaff is just a different place without you all there.
Taken before the first Penn State football game I ever covered — or, as Steve Connelly so elegantly put it, “[my] first day of school.”
  • Anthony Colucci & Jim Davidson: This last year wouldn’t have been the same without you two along for the ride. Tony – thank you for all the confidence you’ve shown in me throughout this past year. I hope I successfully repaid that faith. Jim – I’m sorry the corner was taken quickly, but your warm spirit and amazing energy helped me get through some of the bad days I had. You are both way smarter than me and poised to do amazing things in life.
  • Emma Dieter & Mitch Stewart: You guys have been there since the beginning of my time on staff. It’s always nice to have folks who have been there since the beginning around, but you guys are so much more than just a pair of familiar faces. Thank you both for opening up your hearts and welcoming me into the Onward State community. Working with you was amazing, but that doesn’t even come close to comparing to how much fun we had at socials and ~the bars~.
  • Will Pegler, Matt Sniegowski, & Shannon Soboslay: Myself, Will, Matt, and Shannon made up Onward State’s football beat during the 2019 season. Although Matt and I won’t be back next fall, the memories we made over the course of last season will last a lifetime. Will – you’re going to absolutely kill it in charge of the beat next season. You have my full backing and confidence, and I’ll support everything you write and every tweet you post no matter what. Matt and Shannon – you are the most talented photographers I’ve ever worked with, but more importantly, two of the most genuine, all-around good people I’ve ever met. Hopefully, all four of us can reunite at Beaver Stadium someday – even if it isn’t on the field after a long, stressful 60 minutes of Penn State football.
  • Anthony Fiset, Matt Ogden, & Matt Fox: The hockey boys! Covering Penn State hockey with you over the past three seasons was a blast. As a full-on hockey nerd, I’ll always cherish the memories we made at rinks across the country — and appreciate you all putting up with my yelling. It’s a shame we couldn’t make a return trip to Allentown for the NCAA tournament this year, but working alongside you guys at venues from Madison Square Garden to PPG Paints Arena and Pegula Ice Arena was amazing.
When he wasn’t hockey beat writer Anthony Fiset, he was anTHONy — and his tweets were glorious.
  • Jake Klein & Ethan Levy: My last two actual college roommates just so happen to be phenomenal people. Jake was my first “real friend” at Penn State, and I’m happy to report we’re still in touch – mostly through his ~interesting~ question-of-the-day sessions. I only met Ethan when we moved into 203 Cliffside together, but he deserves a special shout-out because I opened up to him way quicker than anybody else in my life. Thanks for being fun and coaxing me out of my bedroom when I wasn’t in the best mood with your infectiously positive personalities.
  • Dalton McCrann, Tommy Sweeney, & Mike Stevens: I’m a firm believer in the fact that every college student should try to maintain close relationships with their high school friends because of you three. Our group chat has kept me sane when things have gotten hectic in my life. You guys are like a second family to me. I’m glad we’ve stayed close even as those in our group have gone off to college, played D-III football (Roll Cougs!), served in the military, and literally gotten married (!!!) over the past four years.
  • John Affleck: I feel like it’s a rite of passage to thank your favorite professor in a senior column. First of all, sorry for ignoring your in-class tips and using clichés throughout this column. But more importantly, thank you for sharing your years of experience, knowledge, and wisdom with the next generation of sports writers. Whether it was your contagious energy and love for sports journalism, the institution that is the COMM 476 Open, or your efforts to keep your class going during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ll always respect and appreciate the work you do. I wish you (and social media editor Micro!) all the best going forward.
  • And lastly, my family. Dad, Emma, and Billy – thank you all for your unconditional support and love. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive group of people to push me and help me be the best version of myself every day. Without going into detail, we’ve been through a lot over the past decade or so. I won’t speak for anyone else in the family, but I personally couldn’t have made it through the bad days and tougher times without you guys — even if I’m a wiseass sometimes. I can’t put into words how much I love you.
As you can see, I dominate the Christmas sweater game in our household. No contest.

My biggest piece of advice to anybody reading this – particularly incoming freshmen – just so happens to be the basis of this column: dive in.

You won’t get anywhere in life without taking risks. Ignore the million reasons why you shouldn’t do something and really focus on the one or two reasons why you should. Join that club you aren’t sure will pan out. Ask that person you like out on a date. Sit next to a stranger before your random gen-ed in 100 Thomas starts and introduce yourself. The pros of taking risks like these completely and totally outweigh the cons, and you’ll be so much better off if you just dive in.

The worst-case scenario is things just not working out for you. That obviously sucks, but I promise you — it’s so much better than pondering “what if” scenarios for the rest of your life.

I can say with 100% certainty that I would regret backing out of my Onward State interview had I taken that course of action. I’d regret letting myself get fired and not writing as much as I possibly could. Instead of looking back on four years of happy memories with all my college buddies, the question of “What if?” would be burning a huge hole in the back of my mind.

Now that my college career is coming to a close, it’s time for me to move onto (hopefully) bigger and better things. My future career plans may lie elsewhere, but the unconditional love and gratitude I have for this dumb, amazing, stupid, beautiful website will never fade.


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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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