Live College To The Fullest: Max Tolson’s Senior Column
As I’ve sat down for about the 10th time now to try to start this column, I feel like there are a million things I could say, but I just don’t know how to say them.
My four years in Happy Valley have been pretty wild. It seems like I have been here for a million years, but at the same time, it feels like I had just moved into Bigler Hall as a freshman. I have memories spanning from giving the Heimlich maneuver to my friend in the East dining hall to my first ever White Out game to being stuck abroad as COVID-19 blew up and needing to get a last-minute flight to Russia just to make it home.
I guess an easy place to start is why I chose to go to Penn State in the first place. Yes, that question you get pounded with whenever you’re home for break and you’re talking to a distant relative you see only once every year or so. I don’t have one of those stories where my whole family went here or childhood memories filled with Penn State football tailgates and White Out games.
Looking back, the first time that I seriously thought about attending Penn State was the summer leading into my sophomore year of high school. A couple of buddies and I were staying on campus for a summer wrestling camp hosted by Cael Sanderson and the rest of the national championship team that year. I started wrestling when I was 10 years old, so getting to learn from guys like Cael, David Taylor, and Ed Ruth was pretty amazing for me. I was also the only person in the camp to get Cael out in dodgeball — something he’d never admit to.
That was the first time I had ever been on campus and I was just amazed by how beautiful it was. I mean, you’re literally just passing through miles of fields, and then all of a sudden you can see Beaver Stadium, and the town kind of just pops up out of the middle of nowhere. Just by walking by Old Main and seeing all the campus buildings, I knew this was definitely a place I could see myself being at for years.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school and it was time for me to decide between the University of Delaware and Penn State. By growing up in Sussex County, Delaware, there aren’t many people I know that leave the area. It’s the type of place people stay at their whole life, being raised by generations before them. The farthest my peers typically get is an hour and a half ride upstate to UD’s campus. I love where I grew up, but it just wasn’t where I saw my life going at the time. I was ready to move on and meet all new people.
I had planned to visit Penn State one more time and then hit UD the week after that, but after seeing Penn State’s campus for a second time, I saw everything I needed to see. I wanted to come to Happy Valley. Watching Saquon Barkley tear through USC’s defense in the Rose Bowl definitely didn’t hurt either. Who wouldn’t wanna root for that guy in college?
Penn State has given me a lot of opportunities I am grateful for. I joined Onward State as a junior and got to pursue my childhood dream of covering the dynasty that is Penn State wrestling while also meeting some really awesome people. I was fortunate enough to cover the Big Ten Wrestling Championships in the Bryce Jordan Center, even during a pandemic. I became a member of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, where I’ve learned and gotten hands-on experience from some of the best professors sports journalism has to offer. I even took on the challenge of becoming my fraternity’s president, something that wasn’t very easy to do given today’s Greek climate. All of these opportunities gave me life lessons and experiences that not a lot of other schools could have.
Now, as I am getting set to graduate and reflect back on everything, I have a bitter-sweet feeling. I have met some of my best friends that I’ll have for the rest of my life, but I also feel like nearly half of my college experience was derailed by the pandemic. I hardly remember what my last game day experience was like in Beaver Stadium. I didn’t get to dance in my final THON. I just finished my bachelor’s degree from my damn couch in the living room. Those are things I never expected would happen to me in college, let alone life.
I think everyone in the country knows that this year’s graduating class got dealt a shit deal. But the pandemic did teach me was to never take anything for granted and always live life to the fullest (cliche, I know). It may have been tough at times, but despite frustrations, I never let COVID-19 keep me from having a good college experience (in a way as safe as possible). As I sit here and talk to my roommates about what I’m saying in this column, I think we can all agree that we made the most of our opportunity here. Yeah, trying to get good grades, find internships, or get that dream job offer is all very important. But sometimes, we get too wrapped up in all of that and forget about all the other good things college has to offer. I’m a true believer that it’ll all work out in the end if you have that mindset. Don’t leave looking back and wishing you would have done more and stressed less.
It’s kind of crazy how full circle everything has come for me at Penn State. My first memory is dodging balls from Cael Sanderson at a wrestling camp to now interviewing him nearly every week this past semester. Sandwiched in between those two are thousands of memories and stories that I’ll have for a lifetime.
Am I ready to leave yet? Hell no. Give me more sold-out Rec Hall dual meets. Give me more tailgates. Give me more happy hours. Definitely don’t give me more homework, though.
This place will be hard to leave, but I know that after I graduate in Beaver Stadium this Saturday, I’ll be thankful for this blog, my brothers at Lambda Chi Alpha, and everyone else at Penn State that I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet over the years.
Thanks. Go Birds.
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