An Open Letter To My Sedated Self: Anthony Colucci’s Senior Column
You think it’s Saturday, July 9, 2016, but it’s actually Wednesday, July 13. Giancarlo Stanton won the MLB Home Run Derby last night, and everyone has started playing Pokémon GO on their phones.
What you thought was mono actually turned out to be a condition known as viral encephalitis, which causes brain swelling and resulted in you having a seizure nearly a week ago. You’ve been on a ventilator for five days now and are about to wake up, disoriented and unaware of where you are. Due to the potential cognitive effects from the swelling, the doctors and your family are more concerned about if you’ll ever be well enough to go to college, let alone next month.
Your throat will ache from the ventilator. You’ve lost about 20 pounds in the last week. And everyone in your family will be teary-eyed when you wake up. Although it might not seem like it right now, you’re going to be okay. And, somehow, you’re still going to be able to go to Penn State next month.
Before you do that though, you’re going to need to work harder than you ever have before. You’re probably wondering how that’s possible after the last four years at St. Joe’s, but you’ll find that motivation and come to realize there are so many bigger battles in life than schoolwork. Ironically, you’re going to be fighting for the opportunity to do schoolwork, even though that’s so far from what will define your four years at Penn State.
When you wake up, you’ll tell a doctor that you need to go because you “have things to do.” They won’t listen to you, because you have a long road ahead before you’ll be healthy enough to leave. But keep putting everything you have into your recovery and staying positive. It will help you and your entire family get through this. And it won’t be long before the meds wear off and you’ll be back to your usual personality, telling the owner of a therapy dog named Hawkeye that “Penn State is going to kick Iowa’s ass this year.” (They do, Lions by 27.)
Within a few days and after quite a providential recovery, a neurologist will tell you, “You have a beautiful brain” (a compliment you won’t let anyone in your family ever forget) and then you’ll be discharged. Exactly one month before you’re supposed to move into Beaver Hall, you’re going to walk out of Goryeb Children’s Hospital proudly wearing a Happy Valley t-shirt that hangs off of you because you’re so thin.
The doctors will say you could potentially go to school on time, but you’ll need to jump through several hoops first. This will require you to go to physical therapy three times a week for a month and get a few different specialists’ approval, but you’ll manage.
And before you know it, you’ll be driving on I-80 with your family en route to Penn State and all the things you told the doctors you had to do.
When school does begin, you’ll need to have extra time on tests, work with Student Disability Resources, and deal with the ravaging effects that C. Diff will have on your body due to a weakened immune system. You also won’t be able to drink due to the medicine you still need to take, so the frat parties you saw on TV will need to wait.
This might not be how you pictured starting school, but don’t let any of it deter you. You will still have an unforgettable semester, complete with new beginnings, clowns, and a winning football team. You’ll learn more about yourself from this than any of the classes you’re excited to take. And it will make you so thankful that you’re able to be there in person.
Try to carry that same enthusiasm and gratitude with you throughout your four years because you almost didn’t get the chance to have them.
No challenge you encounter in college will come close to the obstacles you overcame to get there. However, that drive to do things your own way and disregard for what’s seen as “normal” or “expected” will carry on – whether it’s applying to the Gateway Program as a freshman because of your impatience to wait two years to get into the Schreyer Honors College through the Paterno Fellows Program, ignoring every rejection email and relentlessly trying to get an internship as a freshman until you landed an offer, or balancing the conflicting demands of completing an honors thesis while being the managing editor of Onward State.
Fortunately, it won’t take long for you to feel comfortable and find the people who you’ll go through college alongside. On the day you move in, you’ll meet one of your best friends in Andy Mollenauer, who will live across the hall. A few days later in your first ever college class, you’ll meet another one, Jim Davidson. And by week three, you’ll join an organization that will change your life when Onward State, which you had started reading during the last few weeks before all this, hires you.
After your first OS meeting, you’ll go to your weekly meeting with the Leadership and Service Special Living Option and say that making it onto Onward State was your high of the week, but it will go on to be one of the highs of your college career.
You’ll write more than 740 posts for this website, find the greatest friends and love through it, and experience Penn State in a way not many get the chance, covering every major riot, game, scandal, and strange news event that will mark your time here. Some things to look forward to include documenting a college wrestling dynasty for four years, potentially having played a part in bringing College GameDay to campus for the first time since 2009 (even if GameDay isn’t really Onward State’s doing, at least Rece Davis will get some ice cream because of the blog), and having a front-row seat to watch four intriguing years of Penn State history play out.
Even though you swore you’d never lead another publication after working as your high school newspaper’s editor-in-chief, one day, they’ll even put you in charge of Onward State, an opportunity that’ll both test your fortitude and allow you to reach some incredible accomplishments.
This might all sound pretty daunting right now, and things will certainly seem pretty tough at times because of how unforgiving the internet can be, but trust me, it’ll be fun. And interesting, to say the least.
There’s truly nothing like being able to share something you take joy in with people you love. You’ll realize everything with Onward State was worth it when you look back at the memories you made working all night with people like Elissa Hill, Steve Connelly, and Gabi Stevenson, who will unknowingly push you to try harder and be better; the ways you and your friends will have contributed to the Penn State community; the personal and professional growth you’ll experience; and the mark you’ll leave on an organization that gave you so much.
There will be so many moments when you won’t have the blind confidence that you had while trying to reason with doctors. One major transformation you’ll undergo is finding your voice and a consistent sense of self-assurance. Throughout your entire life, it’s always taken you some time to warm up to new surroundings and people, but you’ve always eventually found your place.
At Penn State, it’ll be no different. You’ll be quiet, shy, and unsure of yourself at first, but with the help of people like Jim, Elissa, Tim Reams, and Reagan McCarthy, who make you feel like what you have to say matters, and people like Andy, David Abruzzese, and Mikey Mandarino, who constantly hype you up, you’ll find that comfort. Eventually, you’ll even feel confident enough to share those opinions with the internet. (The jury’s still out on whether that’s a good thing.)
Because of people like this, don’t just come to school excited for the opportunities. Come excited for the people who you’ll meet and find a sense of fulfillment from knowing. Come willing to spend a Wednesday morning eating breakfast while doing impressions and listening to Chris Stapleton or a Thursday night in Alexander Court watching Spotlight and Bend It Like Beckham or a Friday afternoon on an impromptu, two-person bar crawl.
These moments of mindless enjoyment with these people will shape your four years as much as any obstacle you encounter during college, so don’t hesitate to rely on them for help through everything. And don’t be too focused on all “the things you need to do” not to appreciate one.
Unfortunately, you’re going to deal with loss. And make plenty of mistakes. And feel unappreciated. And lonely. And misunderstood. And overwhelmed. And disappointed. And embarrassed. And powerless.
Four years is a long time, and plenty of adversity will be mixed in with all the things that will bring you joy. These times are inevitable, but like the summer of 2016, each one will shape who you’re going to become and force you to be stronger.
But regardless of how hard it seems, in addition to your friends’ and family’s support, remember what it took to get to where you’re about to be headed and why you were so willing to take on those challenges in the first place.
Over the next few years, your health won’t be much of a concern, and the summer of 2016 will eventually be nothing more than a distant memory. But never lose sight of the physically weak, yet mentally resolute patient you once were and how willing he was to embark on this journey and take on its highest highs, lowest lows, and most uncertain uncertainties.
Also, put a few hundred on Penn State to win the Big Ten at 18/1 odds this season. You’ll be glad you were there for this semester.
Thank you, Penn State.
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About the Author
Garcia is the first known Penn State student to die after contracting the virus.
“We will no longer sit back and watch as the university continues to disrespect and misuse its BIPOC students.”
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