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My Two Cents: Sarah Lynn DeCarlo’s Senior Column

I️ never felt like I️ got to say my final goodbyes in high school, but here I️ am getting my well-deserved, final goodbye in college.

COVID-19 abruptly halted the end of my senior year, but I️ was lucky enough to get an in-person graduation. Six feet apart, masks, and each student’s two guests in the bleachers. All 158 of us sat knowing it would be a while before we saw each other together again. I was about to attend a school 60 times the size of my high school. I️ was the only kid from little old New Milford High School to attend Penn State University, and I️ liked it that way. A clean slate.

As I sat in my family room after graduation, my parents handed me gifts and cards. Inside was a large amount of Penn State merchandise including my backpack (now riddled with rips, stains, and media tags from four years of use), apparel, a glass, socks, t-shirts, and more.

I normally dislike opening cards, but this one was more important than any other. I️ opened one “Congratulations Grad” card that seemed a little heavier than normal, and as I opened it, I saw taped inside were two pennies. My parents had given me their two cents. Sorry Mom, Dad, and readers, but I don’t remember what the advice was. I’m pretty sure one thing my mom mentioned was, “Don’t take shots,” which ended up being useful information post-freshman year. But, after my four years of college, I️ am finally ready to share with you my two cents.

Cent One: For Shits and Gigs

Freshman year was full of uncertainty. Uncertainty of when we would be going home and if we were going to return. Uncertainty of that slight cough being from COVID-19 or from mold in Shunk and Shulze. Uncertainty of what was going to happen to the future of my family. Despite all of the limitations of the “Mask Up or Pack Up” era of Penn State, there was so much good that came out of it. I️ became roommates and best friends with a girl who could not have been more opposite from me. I️ learned to live on my own. I️ learned that everything will get done because it has to get done. I️ learned it is OK to say stupid things and not care. I learned strangers are awesome. I️ learned it’s OK to cry. I️ learned it’s OK to fail.

On my ride back to State College in August 2021 for sophomore year, I️ applied for a Penn State student blog “for shits and gigs.” I️ sat in the car that was packed to the top with all my stuff and answered the questions along with finding some of my favorite pictures I️ had taken over the course of high school. Photography was always a hobby but not something I️ considered to take seriously.

A few weeks later, I️ got an email saying I️ had received an interview. A few days after that, I walked into Willard and sat down with Michael, Matt, and Ryen as they asked me about Penn State trivia, what kind of pictures I️ liked to take, and what I️ could contribute to the blog. I️ walked out of that interview feeling like I️ was on cloud nine. I️ eventually got an email back saying I️ was to join the Onward State contributing class of fall 2021.

Never in a million years would I️ have expected my photography to be published on the largest student-run news media outlet in the world for three years in a row. I never expected to shoot events such as the men’s soccer Big Ten Tournament win, a wrestling match, field hockey beating No. 1 Northwestern, a political rally, the Homecoming Parade, and so much more.

I️ want to thank every editor over the past three years for giving me these opportunities. I️ have met some of my best friends through this blog. Sophie, Mikey, Liv, Keeley, Joe, Ashley, Pie, Anna, Stutz, Nolan, Aidan, Evan, and Kyra, thank you for being some of the most gritty, lighthearted, and talented people I️ have ever met. You all have impacted my life in ways that will never be forgotten and letting my “for shits and gigs” application be the best decision I️ have ever made.

Junior year, I️ decided to apply for the THON photography committee “for shits and gigs.” I️ had developed a love for the organization during my first in-person THON, but I️ knew I️ wanted to be more involved. I️ still wasn’t certain where my pictures could take me, but once again, I️ got an interview, landed a spot on the committee, and met even more of my best friends.

THON gave me a new perspective on the power of Penn State and what students can accomplish with a passion. I️ was able to capture the beauty of THON throughout two years and it brought me more joy than anything before.

Telling myself to do things “for shits and gigs” has brought me some of the most amazing people, endless memories, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and allowed me to make the most of my time at Penn State. Do life “for shits and gigs.”

Cent Two: “Say Yes”

My roommates’ and my motto senior year was “say yes.”

We weren’t allowed to say no to anything. No matter how tired we were, hungover on a Friday morning, annoyed with one another, or stressed, we had to say yes. Senior year was a year full of lasts. Moments we will never get back. I️ was not allowed to let myself say no to anything. I️ told myself to go out and say yes to everything Penn State has to offer. Going out on a Tuesday to play pool at Champs? Yes. Go watch a Penn State baseball or field hockey game? Yes. Take pictures for NRT or at an R&R pep rally event? Yes. Go see Noel Miller speak at a SPA event or never sleep during THON? Yes. Make memories? Yes.

I️ was grateful to experience college, especially at the magnitude that is Penn State. I️ did not take much time during my four years to relax because what is the fun in that? Doing this was a necessity to feel like I️ got the most out of college. Yes, some nights are meant to stay in and get that work done for class, but saying no to an event that could change your life is never an option. Say yes to every fun thing you could possibly do in college.

I️ came into college scared of the real world and now I️ am even more scared of the real world. However, keeping these two major lessons in mind as I️ take on the next chapter of my life assures me I️ am going to be OK. I️ have taken so many risks and learned so many other lessons, but everyone’s college chapter is to be written differently. My college lessons have been learned.

My chapter has come to a close.

Thank you to my best friends Alex, Emily, Sarah, Autumn, and Erika for being the best roommates and helping me become the person I️ am today. We are more sisters than friends and we are going to conquer the world together. Thank you Chris for keeping me sane, always making me laugh, sharing snacks, and loving me. Thank you to my Mom for being strong through these four years, keeping me at Penn State, answering the phone, and being amazing. Thank you to my family for being supportive of my journey and never doubting me for a second. Thank you to all of my friends I️ have met at Penn State. If you find yourself above, know you are so important to me.

Sunshine to Doggies Happy Hour, Onward State, pulled pork, chicken parm, and cookies from West Dinning Hall, Pickles, Dollar Dog Nights, Penn State men’s basketball, tailgating, friends, Hepper and White, THON, rum and cokes, Shunk and Shulze Halls, the Nittany Lion, Blue and White, Fiddlehead, Champs, Cedar Lofts East Apartment 17, 632 West College Ave Apartment 5-6, Pickles Punch, and all things Penn State.

Penn State forever.

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About the Author

Sarah Lynn DeCarlo

Sarah Lynn is a senior (sad) Onward State photographer studying data science. Sarah Lynn is from North Jersey and loves to hear people hate on New Jersey. She loves Yankees baseball, music, and spending time down the shore. You can follow Sarah Lynn on Instagram @sarahlynn.decarlo.

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