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Looking Back On Penn State’s Hectic & Eventful 2020

To say it’s been a whirlwind of a year for Dear Old State would be an understatement at best.

What began as a promising (and normal!) year was soon derailed by the coronavirus pandemic and its countless effects. Months later, Penn Staters returned to campus to embark on what was certainly one of the strangest semesters to date.

As bad as 2020 might’ve been for some, we’ve finally reached its end. Before the ball drops at midnight and we step into whatever 2021 might bring, let’s briefly look back on Penn State’s busy 2020.


The first month of the year got off to a fast start when several Penn State football coaches, including wide receivers coach Gerad Parker, left the program for new opportunities. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions hired Boston College’s Phil Trautwein as its next offensive line coach.

Penn State men’s basketball kept its breakout season rolling by posting three straight wins to close out the month. The Nittany Lions rose to as high as No. 20 in the AP Top 25 Poll in January.

The State College Spikes also made headlines by launching their #SaveOurSpikes campaign to keep the franchise in Happy Valley. At the time, the Spikes were one of a few dozen Minor League franchises at risk of losing affiliation with Major League Baseball. This summer, the Spikes will help launch the new MLB Draft League focused on showcasing baseball’s top prospects.


Hey, remember THON? That was a thing!

Penn Staters around the world helped THON raise $11,696,942.38 For The Kids. To relive the wild weekend, check out our favorite photos and best stories from THON 2020.

Elsewhere in February, students mourned the loss of College Ave.’s Taco Bell, which closed on February 26. No, they literally mourned it by holding a candlelight vigil that grabbed national attention and even wound up on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment.

February 2020 uniquely featured a leap year, which allowed one Penn State student to finally celebrate his “fifth” birthday. Leap years aren’t too common, but Penn State still boasts a pretty packed history on the celestial holiday.


Well, this is where things kinda went off the rails.

Penn State sent its students home for spring break to kick off the month, only to have that break elongated due to the coronavirus, which just began getting a hold of the United States. The university planned on bringing students back by April 3, but you know how that went!

Penn State inevitably extended its remote learning through the rest of the semester, forcing soon-to-be graduates to say far too many goodbyes they weren’t prepared for.

Elsewhere, the coronavirus pandemic forced every major sports league to temporarily shut down, including Penn State football’s Blue-White game and Penn State men’s basketball’s trip to the NCAA Tournament. But hey, there’s always next year. Maybe?


In all honesty, not a whole lot happened in April while we were all stuck at home.

Seniors rightfully criticized Penn State’s planned virtual commencement ceremonies and pined for the in-person celebration they’d signed up for years ago.

While holed up at home, we got a little creative to recreate the magic of Penn State. Some designed a Penn State of their own in video games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, while others took the liberty of recreating their day-to-day routines from the comfort of their childhood bedrooms. Heck, we even tried making our own Beaver Stadium chicken baskets!

Fourteen Penn State football lettermen made their way to the pros following the 2020 NFL Draft. Yetur Gross-Matos (No. 38 overall to the Carolina Panthers) and KJ Hamler (No. 46 overall to the Denver Broncos) highlighted the selections. John Reid (Texans), Cam Brown (Giants), and Robert Windsor (Colts) also heard their names called.


For the first time ever, Penn State said goodbye to its seniors virtually. Although an at-home commencement certainly wasn’t ideal, cameos and messages from notable alums and friends like Joe Jonas, Trace McSorley, and Lara Spencer were pretty darn cool.

Downtown State College saw plenty of changes throughout the month while statewide restrictions prevented normal operations. Most significantly, longtime favorites like Sadie’s Waffles and Brothers Pizza closed. If anything, last spring showed us it’s incredibly important to rally around small businesses as we did for Taco Bell.


Just like the rest of the country, social justice movements took Penn State and State College by storm throughout June.

Following the police killing of George Floyd, community members took to the streets in droves to protest police brutality and demand improved social justice efforts. There, protesters were joined by notable Penn Staters like Lamar Stevens and State College Mayor Ron Filippelli.

Movements sponsored by State College’s 3/20 Coalition continued on throughout the month and summer.

Later on, Penn State officially announced it planned to return to in-person instruction for the fall semester. Although students were stoked, hundreds of Penn State faculty and staff members signed an open letter criticizing the university’s fall semester planning (or lack thereof).

Teagan Staudenmeier | Onward State

Following scattered incidents of alleged hate speech within the Penn State community, President Eric Barron outlined several steps the university would take to combat racism and hate speech. Since then, the university’s created select commissions to examine its Student Code of Conduct and implemented mandatory bias training for all employees.

On a lighter note, the Nittany Lion Shrine received a much-deserved facelift that gave it some overall improvements and a new coat of finish. It still looks as good as ever!


Penn State continued making waves in July by announcing more of its fall semester plans, which included isolating coronavirus-positive students in Eastview Terrace and converting the Nittany Lion Inn into a lavish dorm of sorts. We also needed to say one last goodbye to the Blue and White Loops (but not for long!).

Juan Garcia, a 21-year-old student enrolled in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, died on June 30 of respiratory failure and coronavirus complications. He is the first and only known Penn State student to die after contracting the virus.

A former Penn State men’s basketball guard accused then-coach Pat Chambers of saying he wanted to “loosen the noose that’s around [his] neck,” which led to his eventual transfer. Several current and former players immediately defended Chambers.

Later on, our Alysa Rubin embarked on a four-day, 1,332-mile road trip around Pennsylvania to visit each of Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses. Nobody loves Penn State quite like she does.


At long last, Penn State students returned to campus in August following a nearly six-month absence. There, they needed to adapt to new policies and circumstances, including navigating one-way dining halls, surviving without cable in the dorms, and wearing masks at all times on campus and downtown. Heck, even the HUB Lawn looked dead for a while! (Spoiler: It wasn’t.)

Before students arrived on campus, a large group of students (presumable freshmen) made headlines by partying near East Halls immediately after moving in. The rowdy gathering prompted President Barron to threaten to shut the semester down and set the tone of a weirdly quiet semester on that front.

Meanwhile, Penn State football linebacker Micah Parsons opted out of the team’s potential 2020 season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. Although the Nittany Lions’ initially canceled season would soon return, Parsons would not.

The Big Ten postponed all fall sports just one week after Parsons opted out, throwing the entire Penn State community into disarray. A fall without football? Blasphemous.

Just a few days later, THON announced it’d move its 2021 dance marathon online amid the coronavirus pandemic. With five months passed, we still don’t know a whole lot about how that’s going to work, even as February 19 quickly approaches.


In September, Penn State students began getting a taste of the university’s quarantine and isolation efforts in Eastview Terrace. One of our staffers who spent a few days there found Penn State’s dirty sheets and boxed meals weren’t exactly what she’d hoped for.

Off campus, Penn State’s isolation efforts weren’t great, either. One of our staffers found the university’s contact tracing policies (or lack thereof) particularly frustrating amid an already-challenging scenario.

At last, on September 16, the Big Ten reinstated its fall football season. The conference announced the Nittany Lions would embark on a nine-game, conference-only season starting in late October. Naturally, the change thrilled every Penn Stater near and far.

Although it was introduced in August, Penn State’s COVID-19 Dashboard took center stage in September. The university reported as many as 458 student coronavirus cases in some twice-weekly updates, leading many to worry about the semester’s success. At one point, the New York Times called State College the second-fastest-growing coronavirus hot spot in the country.


Penn State football’s season got off to a rocky start on October 24 when a questionable game-ending call gave Indiana an upset win over the No. 8 Nittany Lions. DraftKings found the result so shady that it offered refunds for eligible bettors. Even closet Penn State fan Kirk Herbstreit is still confused by it.

That same weekend, Penn State students caught flak for hosting large-scale apartment parties downtown that prompted a police investigation. In total, State College police identified more than 40 individuals from guideline-breaking parties at Penn Tower, HERE, and The Rise.

On October 21, Pat Chambers stepped down as Penn State men’s basketball’s head coach following an internal investigation into alleged misconduct. Although we still don’t have many answers, it seems reasonable the longtime coach’s dismissal is related to Rasir Bolton’s claims that surfaced in July.

In the middle of an already-unorthodox semester, Penn State announced it would make changes to its spring semester. The university canceled its spring break and opted to install a few non-instructional “wellness days” that would give students some semblance of a break without giving them time to travel and potentially spread or contract the coronavirus.

Oh, and did we mention Trace McSorley is a TikTok star now? The longtime Penn State quarterback racked up millions of views through a viral TikTok trend, which even helped him receive a few write-in votes for president. Wild times.


The penultimate month of the year got off to a bang when students showed up in droves to cast their votes in the 2020 general election. Huge lines began forming outside the Bryce Jordan Center as early as 7 a.m.! Plus, in a wholesome turn of fate, Jay Paterno received ballot No. 409 when he arrived at his polling station that morning.

Following a disastrous, first-of-its-kind 0-5 start to the season, Penn State football claimed its first win of the season with a victory over Michigan on November 28. Even in 2020, Michigan still sucks.

Earlier in November, star running back Journey Brown announced he needed to medically retire from football after being diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening heart condition. Brown, who hadn’t played for the team all season yet, immediately received heartfelt prayers and well-wishes from fans across the country.

Plus, Penn State managed to actually finish its fall semester without any ~major~ disasters. Vice President for Student Affairs Damons Sims congratulated students on surviving the semester without fail but seemed to look past their return resulted in record-breaking pressures on local hospitals and led to more than 5,000 student coronavirus cases. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


At long last, 2020 came to an end. To put a bow on the year, Penn State football mustered up four straight wins, finishing the season on a high note with a 4-5 record. The Nittany Lions opted out of a potential bowl game to spend the holidays with their loved ones whom they hadn’t seen in months at that point.

Most importantly, though, Penn State won the Land-Grant Trophy.

Aforementioned TikTok superstar Trace McSorley turned some heads in early December by throwing his first NFL touchdown with the Baltimore Ravens. The longtime Penn State signal-caller dialed up a 70-yard score to receiver Marquise Brown in relief of Robert Griffin III, who left the game in the second half due to injury.

On December 17, a record-breaking snowstorm dumped at least 15 inches of snow in Centre County. The timely nor’easter broke State College’s 24-hour December snowfall record by more than 2.5 inches, provided more snow than all of last winter, and was Centre County’s largest snowstorm since February 2003.

Plus, it made for great sledding weather.

To cap off the year, Penn State announced it will push back next semester’s in-person instruction to February 15, hanging some international students out to dry. If anything, the change of plans indicates next year will be an unprecedentedly hectic one, too.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State with distinction in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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