The Art Of Perseverance: Trae Morgan-White’s Senior Column
If you were to meet a Black man who graduated from Penn State in five-and-a-half years, it would probably be me. Hi, nice to meet you.
It wasn’t an easy road, let me tell you. I set my expectations of college too high. I came to Penn State with a high school 3.9 GPA, rocking a Nirvana shirt and camouflage shorts, thinking college would be a breeze. However, I learned how high expectations can lead to low points in life.
I could write an 800-page memoir about my Penn State experience, but please don’t tempt me. Consider this senior column a condensed, PG-13 version of my memoir. Be warned for a lot of laughs, tears, deceit, false-hearted friendships, and losses of meal points.
While binge-eating golden Oreos and binge-watching “Shameless,” I questioned why I chose Penn State. It wasn’t because of the scholarship that covered my expenses, the football games, or the Creamery shakes and Sheetz trips. Honestly, I still can’t wrap my finger around why. But I knew that Penn State is a small world with big opportunities on a big-ass campus.
Those good memories I harbored at Penn State, like my first kiss, losing my ID on my 21st birthday, or meeting Doja Cat in 2019, were slightly overshadowed by the bad memories at Penn State that shaped me today.
In 2020, I left Penn State’s campus on a very bitter note. No closure, no goodbye — just bitterness.
The pandemic forced me to readjust after a period of severe depression encouraged by systemic racism and “friends” who turned their backs on me. Normally, I can handle setbacks. But at home, I gained self-sabotaging habits. I started eating my life away, making impulsive decisions, going on tirades, isolating myself, and failing all of my classes in the last three months of the spring semester.
I didn’t expect my former friends to have such control over my emotional wellbeing. An ex-friend I considered a brother used to work with me, once invited me to their dorm for jam sessions, and lifted me up like a real friend would. All of a sudden, I was ignored, mistreated, and cut off without an explanation This happened two days before the pandemic, and I returned home empty and confused.
Thanks to that ex-friend, I swallowed a hard truth: Not everyone is your friend. Most people associate with you for convenience. Not everyone has your best interest at heart. Things like that really stick with you, though. I can cry and ramble on how much that betrayal impacted me, but it would defeat the purpose of this column: to find optimism in my student experience.
After returning home, I wanted to drop out of college. Last year, when my mother found out I wouldn’t graduate on time, it hurt me to see her emotionally distraught. When she saw six failing grades, it made her cry; it made me cry because I knew it wasn’t like me, an overachiever, to fail. Miraculously, my four-year scholarship was renewable for two more semesters, and I was still in good standing academically. Also, the alternative grading option really saved my life, I’ll say.
Without that scholarship, I wouldn’t be writing this senior column right now. I worked hard in high school and even joined the National Honors Society just to be accepted. To waste the scholarship would be disappointing to me, my family, and the donors who offered it to me.
I had to persevere. Even in remote circumstances, it took a while to heal from the burdens I left on campus.
I lost physical contact with my friends who moved back to Happy Valley and I lost confidence in earning my degree. It sucked losing the senior experience. Instead, it was replaced with buffalo wing platters and Netflix re-runs of “Moesha” in the comfort of my own home.
However, I found my appreciation of journalism and social justice while at home. I snatched up an amazing internship reporting what I love — music, celebrities, and entertainment. Now I enjoy reporting news more than ever; from topics like Black Lives Matter protests to Kanye West’s weird album rollout, it’s a blast.
Hopefully, this will be my Willy Wonka ticket to TMZ or Billboard one day.
Beforehand, I joined Onward State. I remember the dilemma of becoming a staff writer or graphic designer.
Considering I wouldn’t be on campus due to pandemic spikes in Philly, I knew graphic design would fit me perfectly. Being a part of the best student-run blog on campus helped me polished my writing and graphic skills. I used a lot of that 2020 animosity as motivation to publish the best work possible.
If you ask Michael Tauriello, king of visuals, I’m sure he’d vouch for the graphic design projects I’ve done. Literally, Pat Freiermuth shared my first-ever Onward State graphic on his Instagram story. That was legendary, now that I think about it.
I became Onward State’s designated “DJ” and provided dope playlists for your typical football tailgate. It’s sad I won’t have the luxury to do that anymore. When my talents and my presence were both exploited elsewhere, Onward State valued what I brought to the table. For that, I’m 100% grateful.
Being in Penn State WORDS also helped me revisit my passion for poetry, expressing anger I couldn’t directly address to my friends, ex-friends, or family. Being in that safe space reminded me that I wasn’t alone; I had more friends than I thought.
Last year, I let so many people have power over my sanity. From post-traumatic nightmares to intrusive thoughts by day, it was a shitshow. Still, Penn State gave me some great moments, man.
In 2016, my mother would have panicked if she knew I hunted clowns at midnight. I witnessed riots after the 2016 game against Ohio State, recorded a mixtape in a small Pollock dorm, and got to see Kanye West, The Weeknd, Lana Del Rey, the Jonas Brothers, the Chainsmokers, and Twenty One Pilots perform — some of them for free!
I also interviewed a Billboard writer during my third year, and she told me I was ready for the journalistic world.
Quarantine helped me realize my end goal: get a Bachelor’s degree. I wanted to prove that I could leave college as an educated Black man from the urban streets of Philadelphia.
Ultimately, I proved that this week — yuh, get into it!
So, I suppose this is the section where I thank everyone who played a part in this experience. Sure, why not?
First, I have to thank my mother and my stepfather. To be honest, I wouldn’t have survived on campus without their help. They saved me from losing meal points, and they ensured that I got proper haircuts and went to school with toiletries. They believed in me and never encouraged me to give up, even when I wanted to.
Secondly, I thank my high school college advisor Mrs. DJ, a Penn State alum who guided me in becoming a Nittany Lion. Also, I thank the Brook J. Lenfest Foundation and my multicultural advisor Diane Farnsworth for believing in me and giving me the drive to finish.
Thanks to Michael and Matt DiSanto for welcoming me to Onward State and believing in my work. Thanks to Sam Brungo, my friend and the most talented photographer I’ve ever met at State, for encouraging me to join Onward State and taking on my annoying questions about how to apply.
Thanks to the lovely Ryen for being one of the nicest people to talk to. I’ll re-watch the Bring It On series with you in mind — remember, the third movie is superior. Also, thank you to Owen and Hope for giving me the last-minute reminder that I’m not the only Big Brother super-fan in the Penn State community.
To the entire Onward State staff, you guys welcomed me to a laid-back remote environment. Although I missed the chance to meet all of you in person, that’ll happen one day.
I feel like I’m writing a Grammy speech, so please bear with me.
To my best friends Berto and Matt: We’ll be back in the studio soon. Thank you both for never giving up on me and rocking with me since our first year in Ritner Hall.
To my best friend Alex: You have been my rock these past few months. You allow me to vent to you; you always have my back and support everything I do. Thank you for being one of the most real guys alive.
To the Ritner Hall squad: I lost touch with most of you — some of you on a sour note. However, it wouldn’t be right to not thank Arman, Freddy, AJ, Meek, Shannon, Gigi, Meaghan, Bri, Lynn, and Natally for dealing with my wild ass for the past few years. We made the Ritner Lounge our territory and made undeniable moments. I always got love for y’all.
Thank you to Penn State WORDS for supporting me and my mental health. You brought me out of my shell when I was scared to even perform a slam poem in public. Thank you to Haniel, Nevin, Cassi, Angeleia, Adia, Deja, Kayla, Hash, and all of my “wordsmith” alums like Amari, Cleo, and Joe for inspiring me to slam.
To the alums I still talk to faithfully from SPA — Dejanae, Renee, Isabella, Fatmah, Mack, Noelle, Cam, and Allison, I love all of you guys. I appreciate you all for keeping in touch with me and remaining supportive of me during these trying times. It really showed a lot of decency that I needed to move forward.
Thanks to Aaron. As soon as we took that TV scriptwriting class in 2019, we automatically became close friends. You’ve gotten me through the darkest times of my life, and I’m hoping we’ll reunite in Los Angeles soon.
Finally, thanks to Chronic Town. I miss the root beer floats and hookah flavors to choose from. That place was my escape from my daily stresses, and the service is top tier. I’ll be back one day, I promise.
To the incoming Penn State students — if you find yourself in a rut, it’s up to you to get out of it. You can confide in friends, family, and associates, but you can’t rely on them. Things may be difficult, but as long as you network, find your circle, and acknowledge your wellness, the road to graduation will be easier than you think.
It’s easier said than done, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.
It took me five years. I’m a fighter, and I mastered the art of perseverance. Now, I’m a published Penn State poet, journalist, and musician with so much to offer.
It’s been real, Happy Valley.
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About the Author
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