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Goodnight Dorm Room: Matt DiSanto’s Senior Column

When I graduated from high school, I received an incredible gift from my mom. It was “Goodnight Dorm Room” — a playful spin on the children’s classic for those heading off to college. 

The book, written by Sam Kaplan and Keith Riegert and illustrated by Emily Fromm, offers light-hearted advice for incoming freshmen. Most people reading “Goodnight Dorm Room” would laugh or smile as they read rhyming verses full of jokes, life advice, and everything in between.

Instead, I bawled my eyes out.

I still can’t quite figure out why this 64-page picture book hit me so hard. “Goodnight Dorm Room” didn’t say anything particularly troublesome. It didn’t tell me that college would be a frightening, hopeless venture or something worth dreading. It wound up only painting a picture of college that was full of possibilities, opportunities, and change, and that is what scared me.

I came to Penn State in August 2018 as an emotional wreck. Leaving everything I knew from back home — my friends, my hometown, my “glory days” in marching band, and more — was a hard adjustment. I had trouble eating and sleeping, and I certainly couldn’t wrap my head around the new adventures that Penn State would provide. Those first few months were rough, but I ultimately found comfort and solace by exploring campus and getting involved, and no organization helped me out more than Onward State.

I joined Onward State as a wide-eyed freshman not even two weeks into my first semester. I was still skeptical, of course, but chose to dive in head-first by writing stories and getting involved as soon as I could. By my second semester, I was managing Onward State’s social media presence alongside mentors who pushed me to be better every day. For a long while, I thought I was pure shit in that role, but a wise editor and friend once offered me some smart advice: Don’t be sorry. Be better.

I took that advice to heart and tried to improve as best I could. By the end of my sophomore year, I found myself running the show at Onward State and stayed in that role until just about now. Leading this organization through a global pandemic, at times not knowing if we’d even get to return to campus or see each other again, was an incredibly stressful challenge. Still, this group persevered and continued fulfilling Onward State’s mission of telling the Penn State story, and I couldn’t be more proud of everything we accomplished.

My experiences with Onward State have truly taught me not to be afraid of the unknown. Rather, I’ve learned to embrace it with the hope that things would work out in the end. Usually, they did. Onward State broke news, crushed covering THON (both in person and from our dorm rooms), developed an engaging podcast, and continued serving the student body through initiatives as simple as a football ticket exchange. Sometimes, things didn’t, and you’d wind up in a one-sided war with a really angry business owner who wanted to wipe Onward State off the face of the planet. All in a day’s work, I suppose.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, these past two years largely involved sailing uncharted waters, but that never stopped us for long. Now, I know it won’t stop me from what’s next, either.

My time at Penn State wouldn’t have been the same without the help of some impactful people I met along the way. I couldn’t possibly thank everyone, but I’ll do my best.

  • Thank you to my parents and my brother, who’ve supported my interest in Onward State from day one.
  • Thank you to Liv for helping me make the most of my senior year. It was awesome, and I mostly have you to thank for that. I can’t wait for what’s next.
  • Thank you to Anthony, Elissa, Mikey, Steve, and many more Onward State alumni who set a high bar for this organization and helped me fall in love with it from the beginning.
  • Thank you to Michael Tauriello, my best friend on this planet. I love you, man, and I couldn’t have gotten here without you every step of the way.
  • Thank you to Ryen, Will, Hope, and Mackenzie for forming the greatest contributor class of all time. Can you believe it took us four months to become friends? If only we’d known what we were missing.
  • Thank you to every Onward Stater who supported me and kept this organization afloat. I’m proud of each and every one of you, and I know the best is yet to come.

As I sat down to write this column this week, I knew I needed to go back and read “Goodnight Dorm Room” for some inspiration. After all, it had been sitting inside my upper desk drawer throughout every year of college.

I didn’t cry this time as I leafed through the pages, although perhaps I should have. I laughed at the illustrations and the stories spread throughout it. I reminisced on fond college memories as I read passages about roommates, dorm life, final exams, parties, and every other traditional college experience you could think of. At a certain point, it finally hit me: Over the past four years, I navigated those uncharted waters, too. I really did it! I lived the experience, and I’m leaving Penn State as a better, stronger person. That wasn’t too bad, huh?

When I reached the end of “Goodnight Dorm Room”, its final passage stuck with me for a while.

“There’s a reason it’s called the best time of your life. It’s got just one flaw — you can’t do it twice. So cherish each moment, remember each minute, ‘cause there’s nothing like college, there’s nothing, there isn’t!”

— “Goodnight Dorm Room”

It’s true. College is a sprawling journey with near-limitless possibilities, and you can’t waste time getting worked up about the unknown. You’ll enter as an anxious freshman but emerge as a proud graduate with countless stories and experiences to share. However, you get only one shot, so make the most of it. Go learn, try something new, and get out of your comfort zone. Take the day off to climb Mount Nittany, skip a class to tour Old Main’s bell tower, and never miss out on a home football game. You’ll always remember experiences like those, and you’ve got only so many chances to cross them off your bucket list.

I leave Penn State following the adventure of a lifetime. Do I have regrets? Of course. I probably should’ve studied harder, partied more, and joined the Blue Band like I always wanted to, but I love where I wound up. As I’ve thought back on the past four years and scrolled through my camera roll, I’m happy with how my Penn State story ends.

At times, I wish I could go back and tell the summer 2018 version of myself how this chapter would unfold. I wish he would know that he would run the most-followed student media outlet in the country for two years and even cover a sports team. I wish he would know he would finally earn his first 4.0 GPA in his final semester of college and graduate with distinction. I wish he would know that once he settled in at Penn State, he would meet the greatest people in the world — so much so that he doesn’t want to leave this place nearly as much as he might say.

I didn’t grow up in a Penn State family with expectations for what this journey would hold. Maybe that’s what was once so frightening to me. But now, I’ve learned that part of the fun in life is not knowing what comes next. It’s a challenge, sure, but it’s one that ultimately makes us better off in the long run. 

I don’t know what’s next for me. But for once in my life, that doesn’t scare me.

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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 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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