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Life’s A Climb, But The View Is Great: Jillian Wesner’s Senior Column

I never knew what I wanted to do in life. I remember fidgeting in my seat and my palms getting sweaty when teachers would make their way around the classroom to ask the god-forsaken question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 

What exactly was I supposed to say? I was a beside-myself anxious child who feared their own shadow. My time was spent worrying about every little detail of my existence, and then worrying some more about how much I was worrying.

How did everyone in this little town know exactly the person they wanted to be? I was scared to be on my own for more than 30 minutes and here they were thinking about being on their own in the real world. 

I carried that worry with me everywhere, and because of how much it consumed me, I’ve spent most of my life winging it. I never felt like I had a goal that made sense or would amount to anything substantial. Despite all the things I didn’t know, there were two things I was certain of: I wanted to become someone I was proud of, and I would work like hell to make it happen.  

With so much of my younger years being eaten up by anxiety about the future, I found it hard to make any concrete plans. 

I would describe my decision to go to Penn State as more of a happenstance. Unlike many others, I have no connection to this school. In fact, I never even toured the campus, which is a fact that would make little Jillian shudder.

I’m the first person in my immediate family to go to college, and that was a huge feat of its own. My parents pushed me to be everything I ever wanted to be, but at age 17, I still didn’t know what that was. I thought because Penn State gave me the most scholarships seemed like it would be fun, I’d give it a shot. Hell, I knew I couldn’t conjure up a better plan if I tried.

Fast forward to junior year and the first time I stepped foot on this campus as a student. I spent the first two years of college at a Commonwealth Campus in a global pandemic, which really didn’t amount to much (sorry, Penn State Berks). 

My mom and my sister unloaded my things into my apartment, gave me a pep talk, and then were on their way home. It was the first time I had truly felt like I was on my own, and I don’t know if there are enough pep talks to give to prepare you for that feeling. 


It was here that I found my calling and got an idea of who I wanted to be. After two changed majors and numerous mental breakdowns, I hit the check mark next to the photojournalism major option on LionPath well past midnight one day. Finally, it was something I could commit my heart to after so many “I don’t knows.”

I joined Onward State as a senior, which is rare it even accepts someone this late into their college career. I was navigating uncharted waters, coming fresh off a position at The Daily Collegian I left behind only a few months earlier and now also simultaneously being the newest (and oldest?) staffer for the blog.

The idea came to me when in my COMM 481 class when three of my classmates, and now best friends, sat down across the room from me for the first time. All three members of the blog welcomed me with smiling faces and gracious hearts that first day of class, and I knew I wanted to be just like them. I raced to the application as soon as I left class and hoped that they would offer me a spot. 

Onward State has given me opportunities I never thought were possible for me. I covered almost every sport here in Happy Valley, documented the ins and outs of THON, watched performers, broke news, and captured student life. There were long days and even longer nights of shooting and editing, but I didn’t care. I was so happy to be doing something that I was passionate about. I was inspired by the talent and drive each person brings to the table and how we bust our asses to make sure all of the boxes are checked. 

I learned so much about myself not only within Onward State but at Penn State. These past two years here in University Park were nothing short of growth. I got my first internship, wrote my first real resume, sat in my first 775-person lecture, and made some pieces of multimedia I’m beyond proud of. I laughed, I cried, I skipped some classes, got lost, found my way, and discovered what it truly meant to start a life of my own.

It didn’t come without challenges. I’ve lost two grandparents, left people behind, been diagnosed with Graves’ disease, questioned my worth, had sleepless nights, and stretched myself thin. Despite how much it sucked sometimes, I would do it all again to get here.


As Taylor Swift said, “Scary news is: you’re on your own now. Cool news is: you’re on your own now.” I spent all that time growing up thinking about how scary it would be to be on my own, but now that it’s here, I know there’s nothing to fear. I want to thank my people who, while I’m on my own now, never let me feel alone.

To my family: Thank you for cheering the loudest and loving the hardest. You make it so that even the smallest of accomplishments are cherished in the biggest of ways. I did it all for you. 

To Anthony: Thank you for holding me together at the highs and the lows. You truly are the better half of me.

To Mila, John, Shaheen, and JD: Because of you, I can complete the first part of my mantra. You four truly made this possible for me and every story I make from this point on will be all thanks to your support. 

And lastly, to Larkin, Teagan, and Alysa: Thank you for making sure I don’t have to do this whole life thing on my own. You three are the best cheerleaders, teammates, friends, and people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Because of you, I’ll never be alone. 

While I get ready to bring this beautiful chapter of my life to a close, I want to give the biggest thank you to that scared, little girl who never knew quite where she would end up. You held on, you persevered, you found your people, and you did exactly what you wanted to do even when it felt like everything was against you.

I know now that it is OK to not have a plan for who you want to be or where you want to end up. Through some of the toughest challenges these four years have given me, I held on tight to the hope that things would turn out OK. So, cheers to figuring things out and fighting like hell to do it, even when you thought you never would. After all, life’s a climb, but the view is great. 

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About the Author

Jillian Wesner

Jillian is a senior studying photojournalism with a minor in women's studies. She grew up in Shoemakersville, PA and before you ask, yes, that's a real name. In her free time, she likes to take an obnoxious amount of pictures of her cats Lennon and McCartney and maintain her position as top 0.1% of One Direction listeners on Spotify. Follow to keep up with her work and send her pictures of your cats to [email protected].

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