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‘The Pinnacle Of My Career’: Nittany Lion Mascot’s Journey To Dancing In THON

Nittany Lion mascot Michael McDermott is the embodiment of what it means to go to Penn State. But his passion for Happy Valley and everything it has to offer started long before tryouts ever did.

Much of McDermott’s family attended Penn State, including his older brother and sister. He also has extended family members who played football for Penn State, so it’s easy to say Penn State was the one and only option.

“It was always on my horizon. There was no other school,” McDermott said. “I didn’t apply anywhere else, I just bleed blue and white. I just always knew.”

During eighth grade, McDermott got his first taste of THON in the Bryce Jordan Center, joining his family in support of his older sister.

“I came to THON in the BJC and that was just so mindblowing,” McDermott said. “I got to learn about all the committees and what it means to dance.”

Once he returned home from the BJC that weekend, he knew that THON was in his future Penn State plans.

“The number one thing I wanted to do in eighth grade was dance and be involved,” McDermott said.

McDermott then spent the next four years participating in MiniTHON in high school. While it was only a 12-hour event, the anticipation for the real thing only continued to build.

Then, fresh into his Nittany Lion career, McDermott got to witness former mascot and friend Zach Sowa fundraise and participate as an independent dancer that year.

“I was watching him have his final event for his Nittany Lion career, while also dancing for THON,” McDermott said. “That to me is just the perfect send-off because THON is the greatest thing on Penn State’s campus.”

From that moment on, McDermott knew that would also one day be his destiny.

Flash forward to 2022, and McDermott finally revealed himself to Beaver Stadium on Senior Day.

The impact that the Penn State community has had on McDermott will stay with him forever.

“Every one-on-one interaction I have with a kid is life-changing for me,” McDermott said. “They don’t know it because I am in the suit, but to me, it’s just one giant ball of emotion.”

While his last ride in Beaver Stadium closed one chapter, THON was still on the calendar for 2023.

“It was always a dream for me to dance, but to have the opportunity to dance as the Lion just brings both worlds of wanting to dance and wanting to be the mascot together,” McDermott said. “It’s the pinnacle of my career.”

While switching between being the Nittany Lion and Michael throughout the weekend, McDermott is focused on the bigger picture of what the weekend, and his career as the Lion, means.

“THON to me is just the most selfless service that somebody can do,” McDermott said. “Especially being a dancer, and in my circumstance being the Nittany Lion, it’s all about selfless service.”

Since taking the position of the Nittany Lion during his freshman year, McDermott also earned the title of the longest-tenured Nittany Lion in the school’s history.

Spending three years dedicated to upholding the image of such an iconic Penn State figure, McDermott is experiencing bittersweet emotions moving on.

“I’ve seen it coming for a while, [but] this will be my last event as the Nittany Lion,” McDermott said. “It’s upsetting, I don’t want to let it go, but at the same time the next generation is ready and I’ve done my time here.”

Being the face of such a well-known university comes with its fair share of challenges, but McDermott never once regretted the decision.

“It’s not for me, it’s the Lion and the face of the university, that’s why I do it,” McDermott said. “I don’t really care about having my name attached to it…that’s what I love about it.”

Putting together such a historic career into words can be tough, but McDermott is beyond appreciative of the opportunities that he has been given over the years.

“This is a perfect way that I would want it to end,” McDermott said.

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About the Author

Mara McKeon

Mara is a junior staff writer majoring in English and public relations. She loves all things sports and anything that has peanut butter. You can usually find her obsessing over country music or Penn State wrestling and counting down the days until she gets to see Luke Combs in Beaver Stadium. Feel free to reach her on Twitter @MckeonMara, and for more formal affairs, her email is [email protected].

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