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Time’s Arrow Marches On: Zach Donaldson’s Senior Column

Where has all the time gone…

The hours, minutes, and seconds are ticking down until it’s time for me to walk across the stage as a college graduate and I can say goodbye to school for good.

As much as it’s sad, I’m ready to move on. 

As a fifth-year student, I’ve had plenty of time to prepare and think about what I’d want my senior column to look like. But as the time has finally come to sit down to write it, I still don’t know.

I guess it can be whatever I want, right? You only get one senior column, so I might as well make it count.

For those who know me, and I guess those who don’t, I’m not the most outgoing or enthusiastic person, and I’m pretty surface-level with most people I meet. So, I want to treat this as an opportunity for me to open up and share why, and what I’ve learned on my personal journey at Penn State that could help others in similar shoes.

I don’t really have a cool story to start with. My dad went to Penn State, and I was a casual fan of its football team, I liked the college town, but that’s about it. I’ve come a long way since, and not just in the sense that I’m now a lunatic Penn State football fan.

I settled on a headline that incorporates one of the two words that comes to mind when I think about being a senior and graduation — time and growth — which I guess you can say are the two themes of this column.

It’s also a reference from the Netflix series “Bojack Horseman” — the first show I ever watched on a TV that I was allowed to have in my own room! Shoutout Mifflin Hall sixth floor — the people, not the sticky summer session conditions with zero air conditioning.

The reason why I picked it wasn’t because of the warm, nostalgic place the show will always hold in my heart. But because of the bigger meaning that time has taken on to me over the last year or so.

“It neither stands still nor moves back, it merely marches forward.” — “Bojack Horseman” Season 4, Episode 11: Time’s Arrow.

It sounds clear and obvious, but it can be chilling once it settles in. As I’ve walked around campus going about my daily business the last month or two, I’ve been getting flashbacks almost everywhere I go. I even went in a few of the buildings that I hadn’t been in yet — particularly Westgate, and I may or may not have sat through the last 30 minutes of a tech class in the Cybertorium. I’ve began to realize that there’s no turning back the clock. The people you meet, the places you go, there’s no going back and changing how you live and the manner in which you live.

I learned that time flies — but you can be the pilot.

Ironically, or maybe not so much, “Bojack Horseman” is a show about an animated horse that’s struggling with his mental health and self-destructive tendencies after the downfall of his career as a TV star in the 90s. But little did I know that this would be a precursor to some of the things that I’d have to deal with in the near future.

I never really liked myself or my personality.

I always envied those who can thrive as the center of attention, be quick on their feet, and not beat themselves up over what they said because three seconds later they decided in their head it was stupid.

I’m 100% introverted, so I think sometimes I come off as stuck up or conceited, but it’s completely the opposite. I’m just thinking, listening, and observing. It sometimes takes the right situation to get to know me, which I’ll admit isn’t easy. I hate parties, meetings, classes, most bars, and anything that can be too socially stimulating that doesn’t feel natural to me — I freeze up. I’ve never been naturally confident and in other instances I’ve shied away from the spotlight because internally I don’t think I’m good enough.

In high school, I avoided doing the morning news and sports report with one of my best friends because I was afraid of what people would think of me. But look at me now — I’m set to graduate college and have broadcast live on some of the biggest stages for legions of fans to hear.

You may be thinking “Well, this doesn’t make much sense.” You’re right, it doesn’t, and it took a lot from me to make it my reality. So let me try to paint the picture for you.

I was thriving at the beginning my sophomore year before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. I was starting to find myself following a rough freshman year and some failed friendships and relationships. I was starting to take my life into my own hands and make something of myself, joining CommRadio (I didn’t join OS until my junior year) and stepping out of my comfort zone doing broadcast journalism-related things almost every night while still maintaining a healthy social life.

I’d just broadcast my first Penn State basketball game before heading home for spring break. A new passion for play-by-play had been discovered, and I was stoked to see where it would bring me when we got back.

I went home for break bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but obviously, that didn’t last for long, and we all know what happened next. Every bit of momentum that I so carefully built mentally, emotionally, and socially had just come to an abrupt halt.

On the outside, it may have appeared as if I did well during quarantine — I got in some of the best physical shape of my life because all I did was work out and play video games, and professionally, I created a blog and started a YouTube channel. But on the inside, I was wilting.

The quarantine gave me a lot of time to sit with my thoughts, and for someone as chemically mentally ill as me, that can be a bad thing. It took a while for me to actually confront it, and toward the end of lockdown, my parents and I made a decision to try and get some help via medication. Long story short, it made things worse for me and the people around me. For a while, getting out of bed in the morning was really difficult. It seemed like things would be better if I just didn’t wake up at all.

I’m keen enough to know this isn’t true, of course, but that’s how depression and anxiety work sometimes. But, I’m a fighter, and although almost every day is still a battle with my own head, I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and in a way, it makes me a stronger person.

I couldn’t do it alone. I met my girlfriend, Gabby, two years ago, and she along with family and friends, in addition to some personal loss, self-reflection, and a different medication helped me open up my eyes to see how poisoned and skewed my lens of reality was.

I’ve learned that all of those things I listed about myself and my personality may be true, but that doesn’t make me bad or lesser than anyone else, and that I deserve the good things in life.

There’s a silver lining in almost every situation if you squint hard enough, and I think sometimes that’s what life’s about. Through all the bad that there is, and there’s a lot of it nowadays, sometimes all it takes is a new pair of metaphorical glasses.

A less-sad sports example that I recently experienced: I earned the opportunity to cover Super Bowl LVII and watch my Philadelphia Eagles…lose to the Kansas City Chiefs, unfortunately. But it’s sometimes about the experience and what you gained from it, not necessarily the end result. I got to see Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown connect for one of the most incredible touchdowns I’ve ever witnessed, and seeing the whole thing unfold in front of me is a feeling I’ll never forget.

I’ve learned that throughout college and throughout my mental health journey that life’s not going to go your way a lot of the time. But it’s more about your perspective and how you react to it rather than what happens.

Because time’s arrow stops for no one, and we don’t have forever. But every day is a chance to accomplish something new, and no matter how big or small, it’ll add up eventually. I’m going to be graduating college two weeks from today — you don’t need any more proof than that.

Do I have regrets? I’d be lying if I said no. But deep down, I’m at a place where I like who I am and where I’m at in life right now ahead of graduation. And I got here by being completely, utterly, and unapologetically me. I do my best each and every day, and sometimes I think that’s all you can do.

I think I deserve to hype myself up a little bit. But, I didn’t do it alone. I’ve had countless people in my corner who have loved and accepted me throughout it all and put me in a position to succeed.

Thank you to all my family for never giving up on me and always being there to love and support me. To my mom — after a full 24 hours of labor I guess it’s only fitting that I took some extra time to finish college! Thank you for everything you’ve done for me since that day in June 2000. I really couldn’t ask for a better mother. To my dad, for helping birth my passion for sports and making me into the man I am today (also, I told you it can be done waiting til the last minute!) And to my brother, Luke, for the unbreakable bond we share. I love you all and you keep me going.

Thank you to my gorgeous girlfriend, Gabby, for loving me unconditionally and helping teach me to love myself, and her family for treating me as one of their own.

Thank you to former Managing Editor Matt DiSanto for accepting me into the blog family in the first place and making this column possible. Thank you to current Managing Editor Gabe Angieri for continuing to let me serve on the staff. To Connor Donohue, a former Onward State writer who inspired my application to OS. I would’ve never have been introduced to such a wonderful group of people if it initially weren’t for you — so thank you.

Thank you to all my mentors and other friends and colleagues at Onward State, CommRadio, and beyond who helped inspire my passion for play-by-play and working in sports. And finally, to all my friends at home and at Penn State who keep the fun and spark alive in me — you know who you are. Thank you.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. But you may still be wondering, “How is he a broadcast journalist and a full-on introvert with anxiety?”

Well, there’s one thing that’s made me feel comfortable my entire life — sports.

In the booth and around the game, I feel in the zone and everything else is washed away. The only place in the world I feel comfortable surrounded by thousands of random people is at a sporting event. Working in the sports industry is where I’m supposed to be, and although I don’t have any concrete plans for after graduation just yet, I’m confident Penn State and the people in my life have prepared me to land on my feet.

Find something you love and you’re passionate about, surround yourself with people who love you for you, and you can accomplish anything — no matter what life decides to throw your way.

There’s no going back. Time’s arrow marches forward, so make it count.

I’m proud to say that despite life’s best efforts, I did.

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About the Author

Zach Donaldson

Zach is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. He is a writer for Onward State and serves as an editor for Penn State’s CommRadio. He hails from Downingtown, Pa., or in other words "just outside of Philly." When he's not watching or ranting about Philly sports, you can probably find him at the gym. If you like sports tweets, follow him on Twitter @zachdonaldson_ and all inquiries can go to [email protected].

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