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The Oldest Story In The World: Owen Abbey’s Senior Column

Around this time four years ago, I read my first senior column. I was wowed and impressed by the messages and stories that those seniors shared as part of their last hoorah with Onward State. Ever since I read them, I thought about my own senior column and what I would write. Four years later, I had no idea what I want to write about. For the first time ever, I had writer’s block.

There were so many things I could write about. I could write a letter to everyone I’ve met, thanking them for their impact on my life. I could write about my advocacy for men’s mental health and my own mental health journey. I could share stories that I learned from teaching 12th graders at Hollidaysburg High School, some of whom I know will be attending Penn State next year. The options seemed limitless and I had no idea what to do.

But then it hit me. This senior column is going to be my own personal time capsule. Everything needed to be jammed in here so that in 20 years, I can show my kids what 22-year-old Owen was like. I can show them what Penn State was like. I can show them the people that made Penn State some of the best, and some of the most difficult, four years of my life. 

Before going to Penn State, I had no desire to go to Penn State. I am originally from Maryland and had no connections to the university besides my grandfather being an alum. Out of the eight schools that I applied to, it was the last one I wanted to go to. I don’t know why, but I just never thought about Penn State as a realistic option. And then I visited State College.

I don’t believe in love at first sight, but this feeling was as close to it as I believe is possible. I instantly loved the campus and the small-town feel that was downtown State College. But I loved the feeling of Penn State even more. Simply put, it felt like a place I could call home for four years or maybe more.

My first year was filled with highs and lows, which is pretty normal in the grand scheme of things. The best part of my freshman year was joining Onward State. Unlike a lot of people on staff, I have no interest in pursuing journalism as a career. I have known I wanted to be a teacher forever, and that didn’t change in college. That said, I loved writing. And Onward State was the place that I thought would challenge me to grow as a writer.

I remember walking down to the basement in Irving’s and sitting across from blog legends Anthony Colucci, Jim Davidson, and Emma Dieter. I actually don’t remember much else from my interview, only that my answer to the world-famous, “Which dinosaur would you be and why,” question was an Allosaurus because they are cool and underrated when compared to the T-Rex. It must’ve gone well because I was brought on staff a couple of weeks later.

While nothing topped the high of getting on staff as a freshman, nothing topped the low of being sent home after spring break because of COVID-19. It was really hard to adjust to college online and it was even harder to maintain a balanced social life. I even slowed down my participation with Onward State because of how out of sorts I was.

Sophomore year was a unique experience, especially because most of my classes remained online the entire year. It was also the year I joined Phi Sigma Pi, an honors fraternity here on campus. That organization changed my life and it gave me opportunities that I never thought I would be able to have. It was during that year that I met so many people that would change my outlook at Penn State. Shout out to Maddi, Peyton, Adira, Tom, Ian, Kadambari, Carly, and so many more that I just can’t name right now.

It was during my junior year, when everything was back to normal, that I dealt with some of the toughest moments in my life. It began with overwhelming my workload. On top of taking 18-20 credits, I became an executive board member for Phi Sigma Pi and I was selected to be an editor for Onward State in a new position I created called the Contrib Coordinator. Essentially, I was meant to be one of the first people new writers and photogs went to when they had questions, on top of editing their work. It was great until I got way too overwhelmed and overworked.

This led to what remains to be the biggest regret of my college experience. I stepped away as an editor and almost quit the blog entirely. Matt DiSanto talked me down from quitting altogether, but I still felt ashamed of my decision and that I let so many people down. So, I isolated myself. I did not participate in anything, and only wrote what I needed to write. Onward State became a job, and not necessarily the fun organization I fell in love with my freshman year, and it was entirely my fault.

And so, as my senior year came and went, I had to do a lot of reflecting. The truth is, I will always regret how I spent most of my time on staff. I should have done more, and it cost me friendships with so many talented writers, photographers, and people that I wish I could change. But Onward State gave me so much, too. I got to cover basketball for four years, covering teams that did or would have made the tournament in two of those years. I covered softball for three seasons, I wrote amazing stories about amazing people, I saw the highs and lows of student government, I created my own Penn State reality show, and I even wrote dumb stories like the Penn State version of a Billy Joel classic or explaining all the hidden Penn State meanings in Big Time Rush songs. I will always consider myself lucky to have done those things, even with the regret I carry.

It’s now time for me to thank a whole lot of people, so I am sorry that this column will get a lot longer.

To Anthony, Jim, Matt, Mikey Mandarino, Will Pegler, and Mitch Stewart: thank you for giving me a chance to prove myself and for giving me opportunities to grow. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for learning from you all. I will never be able to pay back how much your guidance helped me.

To Gabe Angieri, Colleen Nersten, Grace Cunningham, and whoever else remains from the fall 2019 contrib class: thank you for being a great group of people to work with and grow with. You have carried the blog to amazing heights and have done so much amazing work. I am lucky to have gotten to know each of you and I know you will do amazing things in whatever field you choose.

To the fall 2021 contrib class: thank you for letting me be a tiny part of your overall journey with Onward State. I wish I could have helped you more than I did and I wish I got to know each of you better, but what I know for a fact is that you all are going to raise the blog to heights it hasn’t seen yet. You are talented, driven, passionate, and overall amazing people, and I am lucky to have seen your growth in only two years.

To my friends: thank you for being the best support system I could have asked for. Thank you Adele and Faith for making me laugh every day. Thank you to Ashley for joining me as a Ravens fan in Steelers country. Thank you Joey for being a calming presence who knows how to keep stress levels down. Thank you to Sweden for bringing me Delaney and Justine, who became some of my best friends even after we finished studying abroad. And thank you Liv for being like the younger sister I never had and for being the person I can rely on for anything. You are all truly the best.

To my family: thank you for pushing me to go after what I want. I wouldn’t have even applied to Onward State without that push, and I am unsure where I would be if the blog wasn’t there. I will always appreciate your love and support.

To my students at Hollidaysburg Senior High School: thank you for letting me be a part of your last year of high school and for welcoming me into your classroom. You are all amazing people who will go on to do amazing things and I will always remember this experience and how you helped me develop as a teacher. If you ever need anything from me, I will always be around to help you.

And lastly, I have to thank my first OS friend: Ryen Gailey. A fellow teacher who enjoyed writing, Ryen and I first met during my second week on staff. Since then, she has been a role model, a confidant, an inspiration, and one of my best friends. She is one of the best writers and teachers I know. She is someone who I hope is in my life forever because every conversation I have with her is the best and every moment I spend with her is always the highlight of my day. Life wouldn’t be the same without her, so thank you, Ryen, for being your amazing self and for being my friend.

My time at Penn State has been more than I could ever expect. I am in awe of everything I got to do and experience. It is bittersweet that I am here concluding this column, something I have wanted to do since the end of my freshman year. But I am grateful for everything just the same. It’s fitting that I end this column with a quote from the hit show “One Tree Hill” that sums up every feeling that I have right now. I’ll let Nathan Scott take us out.

“It’s the oldest story in the world. One day you’re 17 and planning for someday, and then quietly, without you ever really noticing, someday is today, and that someday is yesterday, and this is your life.”

That someday has finally become today, and I can’t wait to see where the future takes me. We are all on a unique journey and I hope you all find everything you look for. And if there are any future Penn Staters reading this column: join Onward State! You never know what you will experience and what will change your life for the better.

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey was a Secondary Education major before he graduated from the wonderful institution known as Penn State. When he was not writing for the blog, he enjoyed rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, supporting Penn State basketball and softball, dreaming of all of the ways he would win the TV show "Survivor," and yes mom, actually doing school work. All of this work prepared him to teach his own class of students, which was always his true passion. He still can be found on Twitter @theowenabbey and can be reached for questions and comments at [email protected]

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