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Dear Old State: A Love Letter: Max Zarbo’s Senior Column

I’m not so great with words, and that’s why I applied to Blog’s visuals team, but here goes nothing.

Dear Old State,

Wow. Where has our time gone? It seems like we’ve only just met one another.  At times, it seemed like you had bit me, chewed me up, and spit me back out.  And at other times, you showed me love in ways I didn’t even know were possible. But throughout the rollercoaster that was our time together, one thing persisted: you always welcomed me with open arms.  

If I’m being honest, you weren’t my type at first. You weren’t even so much as a thought in the back of my mind. But, one day, my father suggested I give you a chance since his uncle had done the same. And, wow. I wish he would have told me about you earlier.

When we first met, it was a time of uncertainty. With the both of us being catapulted into the storm that was COVID-19, thoughts of our future and if each day would be our last ran rampant through my brain like a hamster in its wheel. Signs donning phrases such as “mask up or pack up,” “maintain social distancing,” and more peppered hallways, classes were moved to Zoom and being marketed with the dreadful (at least to me) term “asynchronous,” and the slew of emails regarding random testing had me growing more and more scared for what was to come. 

On the contrary, I am thankful for all of these restrictions you had in place because they forced me to get out of my shell and make an effort to find new people to meet. Your strict rules allowed me to pick and choose my friends with ease as your four-person occupancy limit in dorms let everyone get to know each other fairly well and let their true colors shine through. I ultimately found one friend, conveniently located across the hall, who would change my future with you for the better.

I don’t think I entered the honeymoon phase until after our six-month anniversary, and it’s safe to say I haven’t left it since. Toward the end of our first year together, I got to see a glimpse of who you truly were, and that’s when I started to come around and really see us as a prosperous couple. I thought if I met you at your worst, then it was only up from there, and holy shit was I right. That first week in May 2021 when I went back to Virginia left me feeling confused and slightly pained. For nearly 19 years, Virginia had been my home, but all of a sudden it didn’t feel like home. Virginia morphed more into an old friend, and you became my home. Every day, I would wake up excited, not because it was summer break and I had minimal responsibilities, but because that meant I was one day closer to being able to hold your hand again.

Entering our second year together, I finally got to see what you were all about. Back home on campus and anxious to finally be able to get out there, I started to find out who I was and what I wanted to be. It seemed like every week I was finding more reasons to fall in love with you. You gave me new friends who I couldn’t fathom trading for anyone else, new places to eat, new places to study, and new places to really just let me be me. Oh, and football. As the year went on, I thought we were going pretty steady. But, I was wrong, and second semester had proven to be rockier than anticipated. I wasn’t happy with where we were going, but I couldn’t just leave you behind. I was beyond smitten with you, State. Thankfully, with your help, I was able to discover a new facet of yours. And, as expected, you welcomed me back with those wide open arms of yours.

Our third year together was incredible. I moved into my first apartment which was a change since we weren’t living together anymore, but the commute to you was easy and scenic, so I didn’t mind it at all. In fact, I loved getting to walk to you every day. Throwing in my headphones and getting to explore you quickly became my favorite pastime. As I navigated through a new curriculum, resources, and other parts of you, you never ceased to have my back. And for that, I will be forever grateful. Unfortunately, our third year flew by. I was conflicted. I knew I couldn’t let our last year together seem so fleeting. Something had to change.

I spent our last summer apart working really hard, and that helped the time move quickly. But being so consumed in my jobs, I failed to find something that would help slow down our last few months with one another.  

And then BOOM, there it was. I fired up Instagram as I was walking back from one of our classes one day and saw the announcement that Onward State was hiring. I raced home, filled out the application, and waited. I hit ⌘+R so many times in my inbox, so haphazardly, I’m honestly surprised those keys are still in working order. A few very, very long days later, I finally got the email that I had been granted an interview. I can’t remember the last time I had smiled that wide. The only way I could describe myself would be verklempt. I scheduled my interview and a haircut and counted down the days.  

I will always remember walking into that Starbucks on the corner of Beaver and Pugh, and finding Keeley in her green hat, with Haylee and Pie to her side, tucked in that back corner. The interview was short, maybe only 15 minutes or so, but walking out of there, I thought I had killed it. I popped in my headphones, hung my head high, and walked home to let my roommates know that they could expect to see my name on OnwardState.com very soon.  

After I got my acceptance, I couldn’t wait for my first meeting and start working with everyone. As happy as I was, I was equally as nervous. Would it be too cliquey? Would I fit in? Would they be willing to give the new guy important assignments? Any and every negative thought was erased from my mind the instant I cracked the door open to 113 Carnegie and was greeted by name. State, I knew you had done me well and led me to great hands. I wish you had shared the Blog with me a lot earlier.  

I loved getting to explore even more about you through the lens of Blog. I got to attend a wealth of events, ranging from religious ceremonies, to theatrical productions, concerts, and Division I NCAA events, and I enjoyed immensely every moment you had to offer me. Becoming a staffer with Blog did exactly what I wanted it to do for us. Every week, I was going out and enjoying my time with you, taking it all in slowly.

And now, here we are.  It will take arduous labor to try and find something that has the potential to be as good to me as you were. And for that, I say thank you. Thank you for the education you served me, the memories you’ve helped me craft, and for molding me into the man that I am now and will become.

State, on May 4, 2024, you will hurt me like no one has before. A pain I am unaccustomed to. Your love has been unparalleled, yet on May 4, you’ll wound me in a way that forgiveness won’t come easy. But I thank you for that pain I will shortly endure. I hope that everyone gets the privilege to be hurt by you like that.  

To my parents, Jeff and Vicki, I thank you the absolute most from the bottom of my heart for being there for me every second of my entire life. You guys are my rock, my support, my world. I can’t imagine a life with other people leading me through it. My first weekend with you, State, someone asked why I’m here and what I want to be. I told them, “I don’t know, but as long as it leads me to become even half the man my father is, then I know I did OK”. I love you, Mom and Dad.

And to my brothers, Nik and Jack. I know we butt heads a lot, but you guys are incredible. Thank you both for being there for me when it counted the most. I know both of you will effortlessly be living out your dreams in the not-so-distant future. I love you guys.

And to my roommates, Jake, Rylan, Garrett, and Russell. I love each and every one of you like I do my brothers. Jake, thank you for showing up to school early second semester and being the only other one on the floor with me and turning 114 Hartranft into the best spot in the building. Rylan, you quickly became my closest friend here. I enjoy our similar interests, your humor, and how insightful you are. You and State navigated me through what seemed like the worst part of my life. Russell, the fact that you are still able to put up with me after all of this time is beyond commendable. I will forever be thankful to you and your family for taking me in a few times and letting me have some of the best nights of my life. And to Garrett, I admire your work-life, student-life, and social-life balance. I know I couldn’t do it. Oh, and the Dawg isn’t too bad either. Thanks for getting him last year.  Thank you all for letting me be an unofficial roommate in 310 sophomore year.  I will always love you guys, and I know each of you is going to be incredible in your respective fields. You each deserve nothing less than the best.

And to Camille, Amy, and Kendall. Thank you all for being hosts to many a fire, party, and coordinating pretty much everything related to our spring break. You guys might be more than my roommate’s girlfriend and her roommates after all. 

And to my Great Uncle Frank. Thank you for being a Penn Stater. I, too, hope that I can change someone’s life for the better just by making a selection of which school I attended.

And to Blog. Thank you for cementing this as the best year I could have imagined with State. Every one of you has talents that know no bounds. I envy the day that I get to read or see something on a national scale that was published by one of you. To the editing staff, thank you for taking the gamble on me and bringing me on. I love each and every one of you, Blog.

And to everyone else that I have crossed paths with during my time with State, thank you. You all have impacted me more than you can imagine.  

State, with the utmost gratitude and love, forever and always,

Michael X. Zarbo, Class of 2024

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