‘There’s No Place Like Home’: Lizzie Palmieri’s Senior Column

To my mother, Carolann, my father, Steven, and my sister, Emily, on the day I met them all 22 years ago. It was the day my world turned technicolor, and the first time fate was ever on my side. 

To me, on my 22nd birthday. Changes, lessons, and love mark another year in the books, for which every bump on the yellow brick road was quite hard-earned yet undoubtedly worth it. 

There’s no place like home… There’s no place like home… There’s no place like home…

“But it wasn’t a dream, it was a place…  And I remember that some of it wasn’t very nice, but most of it was beautiful… Toto, we’re home. Home! And this is my room, and you’re all here… And I’m not gonna leave here ever, ever again because I love you all… Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!”

If you recognized the scene above, you’re in good company, folks.

In one of the most iconic movie endings of all time, Dorothy Gale awakens back in Kansas, fresh off a trip through the magical land of Oz. As confusion turns to joy, the little girl realizes she is once again “home,” the place she has longed to be throughout a beautiful, challenging, and mystifying journey.

When L. Frank Baum first wrote this story in the year 1900, the intention was to charm and capture the hearts of children around the world. 

When I was just a little girl, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” certainly captured mine. At 12 years old, I was cast in the role of Dorothy at my new school. It was my first (and much-needed) big break, an opportunity big enough to whip up winds of change and bring back the confidence that had long left little old me in the dust. 

As someone who always does their homework, the job also meant reading Baum’s original text. Cover to cover, the ups and downs of the fable sparked a wonder and amazement for the art of storytelling. Since then, this passion has only grown stronger with just a bit of my best efforts and a whole lot of luck. 

Singing, dancing, and acting like Dorothy, the character resonated with me on and off the stage. She came into my life during a particularly transformative time and reflected the real me like a mirror. 

Today is my 22nd birthday. Ten full years since I found my way through Oz by brains, heart, and courage. I found myself, though, in a similarly reflective state, when an all-too-true idea once again popped into my head.

For the past four years at Dear Old State, it seems as though I have been playing her again.

Landing me at Penn State in August 2021, a cyclone of chaos and crisis dropped me into a beautiful foreign land. A warm, yellow sun on bright, bushy greenery marked the end of a widely felt storm. Glimpses of bluebirds in matching skies and puffy clouds of white brought hope back after devastation in a time comparable to an otherworldly twister. 

Walking bricks of color made a path around the vast and wide place. Rolling hills and fruitful mountains made a surreal distant view of Happy Valley, holding a candle to the best of old Hollywood’s backdrops. 

While I may not have technically been in OZ, I most certainly was in OS. A letter away might not look like much, and in reality, it actually wasn’t. 

An uncertain place I landed in by mistake? Check. I’d never written anything a day in my life and applied on a whim in the hopes of what could be. 

An unknown journey full of fate-shaping characters? Absolutely. Forty-one featured interviews later, and I’d learned so much in so little time. 

An arrival about as graceful as a tornado, shaking ground and drawing attention from a witch or two? Unfortunately for a starry-eyed contributor, this one also rings a bell.

I’ve always found it best to laugh at these things, but jokes aside, the alignment is there.  If OZ was OS, I was Dorothy, too. A few easy commonalities appear to the naked eye. We both have a furry best friend, love a good pair of shoes, and call out for someone named Emily when we find ourselves in a little bit of trouble. 

But my time at Dear Old State made me understand Dorothy in a way that I never truly had before. To her, Oz is beautiful and magical beyond her wildest imagination. The place leaves her wanting for nothing else besides what it could never be: home. 

“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”

As a student far from home at University Park, four years of adventure left me with the same bittersweet feeling. I loved my school and all it brought me, but home still held my heart tighter than any beautiful excitement of Happy Valley. 

It’s funny how when you miss something, you seem to see it wherever you look.

This was also the case for Dorothy Gale by the design of director Victor Fleming. “And you, and you and you and you were there,” Dorothy said to the farmhands. “But you couldn’t have been, could you?”

In the 1939 film, the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion look familiar to the little girl for a reason: they are also Huck, Hickory, and Zeke, played by the same three actors who appear on the Kansas farm. 

Throughout my own journey in OS, each step forward was taken with joy. As a feature writer, you could always find me writing in the brightest of tones.

But why was I always drawn to the happiest themes in the warmest of stories? Because I saw a bit of home in all of them. Marked by the brains, love, and courage that I dreamt of returning to, I could easily identify them, even when I found myself in the most foreign of lands. 

Whether it was about wisdom imparted by a parent, bravery in the face of adversity, or siblings taking on the world together, every post I ever wrote reminded me of home. 

“How can you talk if you haven’t got a brain?” “I don’t know, but some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?” the Scarecrow responded.

When I interviewed a sister duo conquering THON 2024, chatted with two Lionettes performing side by side, or connected with a big brother dancing for his little, themes of intelligence, sisterhood, and partnership filled the page. 

The experiences made me think of my own sister, Emily, and put brains on my brain. Giving the best of advice, she held my hand through life and asked for nothing in return. When an angry orchard threw the first apple, it was she who suggested a snack. Gifting every bit of brilliance gathered, she was just as generous as she was smart. I stood on her shoulders to reach every achievement, for her wisdom changed my life completely. 

“I shall take the heart. […] For brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”

When I wrote of a Penn State dad bonding with an Auburn fan during the White Out game, or a family creating community on the way to Beaver Stadium, or local parents providing kindness to students for free, themes of heart and hard work glowed through the story. 

Where did these ideas come from? The heart of the Tinman is most reminiscent of home to me through my father. The Tinman worked long, hard, honest hours until one day, it rained and he rusted in place. For as long as I can remember, my father has done the same to ensure no drop of rain would ever reach me. When I wrote of passion projects turned into reality by heart and hard work, I could only think of him.

“We are lost, for they will surely tear us to pieces with their sharp claws,” the Lion said. “But stand close behind me, and I will fight them as long as I am alive.”

When I chatted with a visually-impaired endurance athlete conquering new heights, checked in with a White House news correspondent known for driving the news cycle, or interviewed an Air Force veteran bettering the lives of servicewomen, the idea of bravery slashed through the story like the strongest of swords in the mightiest of hands. 

This particular theme did not always come easily to me, for I hid behind my mother’s courage until I was brave enough to stand on my own. She often stood tall between me and the most dangerous of beasts, for no poisonous poppy field stood a chance against her protection. A few paces later, when the flying monkeys appeared, the lion’s roar came naturally to me. For that, I can only thank my mother, the bravest of them all. 

“Toto did not really care whether he was in Kansas or the Land of Oz so long as Dorothy was with him… It was Toto who made Dorothy laugh and kept her from growing as grey as her surroundings.” 

When I reimagined the life of a dog through Penn State’s favorite pups or chatted with a dog treat company, it was all because of my own beloved Macaroni. The most truehearted and trusted companion, my own best friend was the inspiration behind these stories. 

When we lost her earlier this year, home would never be the same. Pawprints were left on our hearts, for John loved the little dog, and the little dog loved us. That’s how I know my eepa and best friend are watching over us every step of the way.

“It’s going to be awfully hard to say goodbye… For now, I know I have a heart, ‘cause it’s breaking.

When you spend so much time dreaming of home, you would think it would be easier to make your wish come true. But I knew I couldn’t leave Oz without saying goodbye to the remarkable people I’ve met along the way.

So I did just that. To prepare for this goodbye, I recently reached out to those who shaped my story. Their kindness and willingness to share memories was overwhelming, and I am incredibly humbled to have met them on the yellow brick road. For sunny days always followed these conversations and turned the path a sparkling gold.

And remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.

“I want to recognize Lizzie for the deep commitment it takes to pursue something like writing for Onward State as an undergrad. It takes a lot of courage and discipline to seek out these opportunities when many others just sit back and let them pass by. It speaks volumes to your ambition. Wishing you the best in the ‘real world.'”  ~ Stephanie Shirley, “The Comm Entrepreneur: Penn State Alumna Discusses Business, Grit, & The Relentless Pursuit Of Passion

“Lizzie put me at ease with her style and approach to the interviews. I’d been reading Lizzie for four years, so when the author of Un-Break My Heart’: An Ode To Gumby’s Pizza asked to interview me, I was flattered. She had me at Pokey Stix!  I love that she decided to write profiles of accomplished Penn Staters… I was honored to be part of Lizzie’s Penn State experience!” ~ Paul Clifford, “All Roads Lead Home: Catching Up With Penn State Alumni Association CEO Paul Clifford” 

“Enjoyable, thorough, rewarding! Lizzie did a really nice job of capturing a major moment in my life as a writer and a father, and I appreciated the joy and care she brought to the piece. Penn State should be proud!” ~ Ben Feller, “Former White House Correspondent Turns The Page With Upcoming Children’s Book

“Lizzie was very professional and kind. Lizzie stayed in touch and made us comfortable talking with her throughout the process. She seemed genuinely interested in finding out what we were doing and why… It was comforting to not be misunderstood, or misrepresented, but to know that you ‘got it’ and wrote as such. Thank you for that.  Best wishes!!” ~ Lori Rose & Sue Jackson, “Ask A Mom: State College Moms Spread Kindness On Campus With Free Advice Stand

“Lizzie is the sweetest! She always comes prepared and always gets the job done… So thoughtful and full of love. She really took her time and did a flawless job. I love working with Lizzie and I am excited to see her continued success!!” ~ Haley McClain Hill, “Girl On Fire: Penn State Alum Paves Way For Military Women With TORCH Warriowear” & “Penn State Alumna Haley McClain Hill Talks Winning A Deal On ABC’s Shark Tank”

“Since becoming a Penn State student in 1978 through recent years, I have had many articles written about me or my family because of our roles at Penn State… Lizzie, by far, wrote the best article with no major inaccuracies… She truly listened to what I said…not just going through the motions or thinking ahead to the next question on her list.” ~ Lori Bowers Uhazie, “Nittany and Me: First-Ever Blue Sapphire Honors Family With Children’s Book

“I’ve done dozens maybe hundreds of interviews over the past years and you were so well prepared with excellent questions… You are as personable and professional as the best. Keep up the great work.” ~ Dan Berlin, “How One Blind Penn Stater Is Changing Lives By Changing Minds”

“It was a delightful afternoon of fun and relaxation remembering our Penn State years. We shared scrapbooks, photo albums, and wonderful memories. The resulting article was just unbelievable! We both loved it. So many classmates read it and responded to it with emails, phone calls, and written notes… Lizzie, you were very professional and well-prepared for your visit with us. You put us at ease immediately and the time spent with you passed so quickly.” ~ Jim & Nancy Gilbert, “When Jim Met Nancy: A 1959 Penn State Love Story

“Lizzie was incredibly professional and energetic throughout the interview. The entire experience was quite memorable, and she was able to make the entire interview feel conversational… The article was amazing! I sent it to so many family members and friends.” ~ Matt McHugh & A.J. Carabello, “S Is For State: The Story of Beaver Stadium’s S-Zone” 

“A complete joy. Humor, professionalism, comforting, caring, I was at ease. [The article] was in depth, hitting mostly all of the conversation… She has the “gumption.” (my father’s word) energy to achieve anything.” ~ Susan Watson, “Sweet As Sue: Former Creamery Manager Shares The Full Scoop On 35 Years of Service”

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” 

Both good fortune and heartache found me fast on the yellow brick road, sweeping up in a fate-shaking twister for the trip of a lifetime. Through quick twists and turns, moments popped through dust and clouds to command attention, making sense of bits and pieces only once the cyclone had calmed. 

There were things that mattered and things that didn’t. Oftentimes, a quick peek behind the curtain was just enough to tell the difference.

But just like Dorothy in Oz, I had the power to make my wish come true the whole time. For happiness cannot be chased over the rainbow. It can only be enjoyed when one is lucky enough to identify it through a cloudy and mystifying storm. 

Four years later, I’ve learned that for myself. Endless gratitude and appreciation for those who pointed me in the right direction with fabulous stories and bold endeavors to shape one when shapeless in the hands of fate. 

So how does one wish to end a story like this? Well, I can’t really tell you, for then it won’t come true. 

“Are you ready now?” Glinda said. 


“Then close your eyes, tap your heels together three times, and think to yourself, ‘There’s no place like home.‘”

There’s no place like home… There’s no place like home… There’s no place like home…

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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