The Songbird Found Her Song: Larkin Richards’ Senior Column
I’ve never been a fan of myself, at least from what I can remember.
My mom, on the other hand, thinks I’m the best person that exists on this planet. Ever since I was little, my parents thought I was something special. I’d talk anyone’s ear off at the age of six, was way too aware of my own emotions, put others before myself since I could walk, and had a sense of humor that cracked up any mom in the room.
Look at this girl. She was unstoppable.
They knew I was made for something big. They just didn’t know what. Quite frankly, neither did I, because I couldn’t believe I’d ever make it to somewhere remarkable.
I just couldn’t get on that train. Middle and high school were a nightmare for me in the confidence department. No one would’ve known, though. I had the biggest smile out of everyone in the room, and most of the time, it was genuine!
But every move I made and any word I spoke was followed up by the world’s biggest perfectionist and criticizer: Myself.
When it came to my future, I didn’t even know where to begin because it starts with believing in yourself, and I surely couldn’t do that.
I visited Penn State during the summer of 2018 for New Student Orientation. I traveled with my mom from visiting Mercyhurst, where I knew for certain I didn’t want to commit.
We didn’t grow up in a Penn State family at all. We were the furthest you could get from Penn State fans, so I actually didn’t know anything about the school. I have to thank my friend, Erik, for talking about his love for this school every day at lunch to even convince me to visit.
Anyway, back in 2018, I arrived, and visited the College of Communications, and my mind was blown. It was because yes, I wanted to get accepted here, but I had no idea how it could even happen. There she was — The Doubter — myself.
Going to high school in a really, really small town is hard enough. Everyone suspects they know everything about you and there you go, they have the rest of your life planned out for you at the old age of 18. Luckily for me, on a random October day in 2018, Penn State admissions visited the Magic Kingdom of Brackenridge: Highlands High School. I applied in my school’s computer lab. Two months later, I was a Nittany Lion.
I’d be lying if I said I sighed in relief when I got that big envelope.
I had no issues getting accepted into the only college I wanted to go to. I’m not sure why The Doubter was so present. I was the typical student who wanted to be perfect for all of the wrong reasons. Penn State accepted me because I was perfect on paper. I was perfect in the eyes of everyone around me, and they either loved me or hated me for it. There was no in-between. Perfect this, perfect that. I was perfect to prove myself to my dad, my teachers, and my bullies — all of the things that make for a solid coming-of-age story.
I’ve never been a fan of myself. Even if I walked into every room like I owned it. You could have 50 people cheer me on, and I could find 50 ways to tell you how I could’ve done better.
So when coming to Penn State, a place to make it big, I knew I couldn’t mess this up. I couldn’t mess up because I was tired of rooting against myself. More importantly, I knew this was my chance to find a version of me that was loved by the only person that matters. Me.
That’s the story of Larkin before Penn State. Now, let me tell you the story of Larkin who’s graduating from Penn State on Saturday, May 6.
I walked onto this campus and never had a dull moment. I chose a major that called my name. I answered, and I found the purpose that was in me all along. Being a storyteller has been intertwined with me since the beginning of time, and Penn State gave me every opportunity to bring it to the surface.
I shine as a journalist. I’ve never noticed myself shine before. People always told me I could, but I never wanted to believe them. I understand them now. I smile and I can’t stop. It’s because I love what I do and I love who I am when I do it.
I came from a place where I’d never written a feature or any story. I couldn’t be a journalist, right? Wrong. I’m serving as this year’s journalism student marshal and graduating summa cum laude.
I joined a blog that single-handedly kickstarted my career. I’m a woman who has written over 100 features and shared countless stories, found a place in the sports industry, produced videos, and became a leader as a storyteller. I’ve engrained myself in so many organizations that are vital to the journalism and media community. Thank you for letting me be a person you looked up to.
Journalism is a place where I finally found who I was. It’s now my identity that no one can take away from me. It’s a place where comparison doesn’t need to exist because storytelling isn’t about yourself.
It’s like being a journalist is a force. You amplify voices. You create and explore and overcome and grow. It became a superpower of mine. That’s all I needed to thrive at Penn State.
Don’t get it twisted. None of this was easy. Nothing here is handed to you. I can say I did this by myself. Of course, we all have support, but at the end of the day, graduating college is your job.
Constructive criticism becoming a perfectionist’s best friend is unheard of, but it happened. Surrounding yourself with life-changing work comes with sacrifice and discipline. Most of all, it takes a lot of heart and empathy. That’s how I knew it was made for me.
My band teacher in high school, Mr. Beresik, told us before graduating that leaving your legacy is completely up to you. Because Penn State is the school that it is, I knew I had to be a fan of myself to mark my legacy. So over the last four years, I can put in writing that I worked hard to love myself and most importantly, be proud of myself. What I’ve done is extraordinary.
And no, there’s not a single thing I would’ve done differently. I would say I did it perfectly.
To say goodbye to Penn State is hard. There was a time I didn’t love it here (it was the pandemic, what can I say?). But that changed. I found myself and people who love and support me here. I will never forget what this school gave me: Hope.
My heart is at home in Happy Valley.
As I said, there were people along the way that made my moments here sweet and fulfilling.
Mikey Mandarino, thank you for recruiting me to Onward State one random February evening. This blog is the reason I uplifted so many stories. You have a part in that.
Thank you to Matt DiSanto, Mackenzie Cullen, and Ryen Gailey for advice, support, and love since the start of my Onward State career. Thank you for reading my work even after you graduated and making me feel like I’m meant to do this. You impacted me more than you know.
Hey, Gabe Angieri and Sam Fremin! Thank you for being a part of my sports journalism journey and cheering me on. It might’ve been a small effort for you both, but you gave me confidence in a male-dominated space and showed that you wanted me to succeed.
Also, thanks so much to Ryan Parsons for telling me to sit and write this all at once. It worked, wonderfully.
I always felt like an outcast growing up. At Penn State, that never happened. I believe it was because I was meant to be here and find friends who love a loud, hyper, bubbly, and crazy version of me. To the PSU Chicks group chat, Alivia, and Jen Fortney: Thank you for being the people who made me never apologize for being myself. Thank you for opening up your lives to me and welcoming me in with the warmest hugs.
To Jillian, Teagan, and Alysa: You three have shown me a level of understanding I’ve never experienced before. We all share the same thoughts and, let me tell you, I’ll never trade that for the world. We are going to grow old together, force our kids to be friends, go on all of the cringiest vacations when we’re 40, and thank queen Mila Sanina for forming the world’s most loving and supportive friend group. Life will never be hard knowing I have you three, and I’m endlessly proud of you.
I met a boy on my 21st birthday outside Porter Hall. I never thought twice about it. Little did I know, I’d fall in love with him and rediscover everything I loved about myself. Doug Grande, thank you for being the light of all my days. When you uplift me, I know I’m capable of anything. I thank you every day for choosing to love me, and I’m so glad you do. You make each day easy and full of promises and laughter. You are one of a kind, my perfect fit, and I believe I will love you in every universe. Let’s make music until the end of time. Thank you for being mine.
Lastly, thank you to my mama and Mikey Jo (and Gertrude and Ernie because Mikey would kill me if I didn’t mention them). You two have been with me throughout every season of my life. You’ve loved me unconditionally and supported me through the days when I thought I didn’t deserve anything I had worked for. Mama, you were my first-ever fan. You brought me into this world knowing you’d love me more every day. My life is complete with you two in it, and I thank you for being my family. It’s the Core 3, and it’ll always be us. I love you both.
I’m going to end this how I started it.
Everyone in my life knew I’d make it big one day. I still have a lot of work to do. But I found a special place called Penn State, and it gave me a life full of optimism. Because of a school nestled in the mountains in State College, I know I’m going to tell stories for the rest of my life because I finally believe in myself. That’s all I’ll ever need.
My last words will be from a note my Nanny and Poppy wrote me in eighth grade. “Graceful. That is what you are… Always remember what you are, even if at times it does not seem fair or right — you will come out on top in life.”
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