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23 Things I Learned Graduating In 2023: Kyra Cunningham’s Senior Column

Growing up, I thought it was normal to have a Nittany Lion painted on the bottom of your family’s pool, a cooler that played “Fight On, State” whenever opened, a dog named Nittany, and a Penn State Christmas figurine display/entirely separate tree. Since I was brainwashed for eighteen years the daughter of two proud alumni, Penn State seemed like the right school for me to attend.

I took my SAT one time, got a score that could guarantee me four years in Happy Valley, and only applied to this school. I committed to Penn State in October of my senior year and, mostly because I was bored while all my friends were still filling out the Common App, I threw my name in for the Schreyer Honors College. I jumped around the kitchen table with my mom when I got accepted that February.

With everything seemingly figured out before I got here, I learned way more than I could have ever imagined during my time at this school. The following list encapsulates advice, memories, and time well spent in State College.

1. It’s OK to not have a major for your first two years of school.

The first question people ask when you are in college is “What is your major?” This is bullshit. I always felt lesser than my peers with their futures figured out, but in reality, it didn’t matter one bit. I am graduating on time, have had two amazing internships at companies in the Fortune 200 (one where I got to fly on a private jet to beautiful Gary, Indiana, and the other where I was able to move across the country to the less beautiful Denver, Colorado), and Penn State sent my friends and me to represent the school at a supply chain conference in San Diego, California. I am leaving Penn State with a scholarship to obtain my master’s in supply chain at MIT in the near future and a job at Lockheed Martin Space. Two years ago, I was a DUS kid. Everything works out.

2. Find places to express your hobbies.

I’ll be honest, my first semester was the worst 16 weeks of my life. I was so lost and wanted to transfer schools or drop out to work at Giant Eagle for the rest of my life. During my second semester, I made a plan to join the Crossfit Club to meet people and work out because suddenly I wasn’t playing the sports I had played since fourth grade. This was great, but I moved away from the Wagner Building and didn’t want to walk 30 minutes to do a really difficult workout.

Sophomore year came around, and I applied for this blog. I didn’t know anyone in it, but I loved taking photos. I think I only got accepted because I was able to say Russ Rose was the volleyball coach when Matt DiSanto was interviewing me, but at any rate, I have been a part of Onward State for three years. I have shot every sport that OS covers (as well as a handful that we don’t), and I was able to meet some pretty cool people. I also discovered the sport of wrestling through OS; it has become one of my favorite things to watch Penn State compete in. To Erin Sullivan, Michael Tauriello, and Matt DiSanto, whenever I reminisce about this blog, I’ll think about you <3.

3. Eat local.

It’s probably because I am my father’s daughter, but wherever you are, I’m sure there are local businesses that are better than Ch*potle. Here are some of my favorites in State College: CC Peppers, Happy Valley Brewing Company, Meyer Dairy, Federal Taphouse, Cozy Thai Bistro, Margarita’s Pizza, and Sowers Harvest Cafe.

4. Use your resources.

Penn State has a lot of resources, but they are only helpful if you use them. Shoutout to the Supply Chain Career Fair and the school’s subscriptions to the New York Times and Adobe Suite.

5. If you are going to the state of Indiana with four guys, I hope you have a working toilet.

One of the lowest moments of my life was the Friday night before the Indiana game. It was 1:49 a.m., and I was squatting around the side of the Hickory Shades Motel while I made Sam Fremin block the walkway to my “bathroom.” Don’t say I never gave anything to this blog.

6. Cousins are great.

I would not be graduating from Penn State if it weren’t for my cousins, Logan and Devon Sweeder. They were a shoulder to cry on during my freshman year, which I took full advantage of. I was a frequent guest at the condo, and I will never be able to repay them. You guys are the older sisters I never had, and I love you!

7. Roommates are overrated.

Don’t get me wrong, when my best friend asked me to live in a house with her, I did it (shoutout Jackie Saleeby). However, living alone my senior year has been immaculate. I highly suggest it to everyone at least once in their life.

8. Kyra’s favorite bar: Zeno’s.

I don’t need to explain this. If you don’t like Zeno’s, you don’t know a good bar. I’m actually glad a lot of people don’t go to Zeno’s. More space herpes for me!

9. Social media is fake.

It took me a while to believe this one, but when a girl from my high school was posting about how great she was doing at Penn State, her mom was telling other moms in my hometown a different story. College has hard moments for everyone, whether it matches their Instagram feed or not.

10. Go out on a Tuesday.

If you told freshman year me that I would be closing Pickle’s on a Tuesday, I would have wondered where I went wrong. However, the Jax to Pickle’s lineup on a Tuesday night is unmatched, especially when your only class on Wednesday is fly fishing. Find your day to go out with your friends and cherish it.

11. Always have TUMS on hand.

Sometimes you need a TUMS. Sometimes you need a pre-TUMS. Maybe I should see a GI doctor.

12. Your friend’s friends are your friends.

I really lucked out meeting Caden Hazenstab. He had this awesome group of friends from his floor freshman year and from his hometown. They adopted me as one of their own, and I could not be more grateful. #bark

13. Lambdas.

During my second semester, I rushed a business frat. The spring 2020 Lambda pledge class of Delta Sigma Pi quickly became known as the worst pledge class in the fraternity. I think we were screwed over by the global pandemic hitting while we pledged. Anyways, my friends that I am going to visit all over the country in their new cities are Lambdas. Caden Hazenstab, Dan Risser, Tim Tierney, Matt Hinkle, Ann Sepich, Darrian Petrakis, Jess Hall, and the rest of my lambs (worst pledge class, remember, I can’t name you all), I love you guys (I’d put a picture of all of us, but we don’t have one).

14. It’s not that serious.

You will meet people in life that take everything very seriously. Penn State taught me that it doesn’t matter. The best advice I have ever received, from professor Kate Rosenberg, is that “an essay will never be done, you just have to turn it in.” Nothing will be perfect. Get stuff done and move on.

15. You are going to fail. What matters is what you do after.

I was rejected from a handful of exclusive organizations (club sports and other social-focused orgs). In the moment, I was crushed. However, if these failures didn’t happen, I would not have met some of the coolest people. Matt Ryan, Jacob Martin, Heather Lukas, Carson Roth, Bri Balafoutas, and Maria Karamanos, I am glad I failed so I was able to find you guys when I succeeded.

16. Celebrate everything.

You got your dream internship? You went to class today? Celebrate it. My friends and I found that giving ourselves little treats for everything we get done helps a lot. This can be as simple as one M&M for every sentence you write of your thesis or blueberry pie bombs for making it through the week. College is hard, so even the little wins need recognition.

17. Shotski with your family.

It’s a great way to wash down a grilled sticky.

18. Believe in yourself.

People are going to doubt you. They are going to try and keep you from achieving what you know you can. Don’t listen to them. People lie and make up excuses to make themselves feel better. As long as you know who you are and what you want to do, that’s enough to get you there.

19. A second dinner is sometimes needed.

Whether it is from the Yallah stand, Sheetz, Halal cart, Canyon, or Penn Kebab, a second dinner is never a bad idea. Having a bucket in your apartment is also not a bad idea.

20. Ask questions.

The worst thing that can happen is they say no.

21. Don’t skip class unless there is a really good reason.

I can count on one hand all the times I have skipped class. You are paying a lot of money to be here, so go to your damn classes. It’s the reason you are here. Showing up is a majority of the battle; you can nap later. Also, sitting in BLAW with the hangover sweats praying that Kaplan doesn’t call on you to summarize a case you didn’t read is a really funny memory to have.

22. Call your parents.

After a trying first semester, I got really close with my parents. I call my mom about five times a day and my dad every two-ish weeks. These are equivalent. Whatever works for you. Tell them what you are doing. I bet they want to hear it.

Kelle and John, I hope I have made you guys proud so far.

23. Take mental pictures.

You can’t beat time. College is going to end, and you are going to wish it wouldn’t. Take in listening to Donny Burns and Nick playing Sweet Caroline at the end of their Phyrst set. Take in the Alma Mater at the end of every football game, arm in arm with your best friends. Take in the random whiff of manure you get walking to class in the middle-of-nowhere Central PA. Take it all in. It goes fast.

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About the Author

Kyra Cunningham

Kyra Cunningham is a photographer for the blog and a senior at Penn State. She is studying supply chain, hates a laugh track, and loves Taylor Swift. DM her on twitter (@kyracunninghamm) about how great her pictures are and add her on LinkedIn.

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