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We the People Walk

What does “We the People” mean in the context of Penn State?

“Nothing” constituted my initial thoughts. At least those sans expletive were quite straightforward. “We the People” is a phrase borrowed from the Constitution of the United States. It doesn’t mean anything in the context of Penn State. Perhaps my ignorance fueled a juvenile groping for connections.

A flash rhetorical analysis of The Bible quickly drew my attention to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning….” I remember Dr. Richard Doyle harping on this passage in our rhetorical traditions class, “What is Life?” Dr. Doyle hammered home the rhetorical mastery of commencing the creation narrative with those three words: “In the beginning.” Those words at once establish and validate the authority of the text’s authorship through its content. This was my first exposure to instant entrainment. Perhaps this is more than meets the ear when shouting: “We Are…Penn State!”

“We the People” is not merely a component of the Preamble, it is not just another treasured phrase from the canon of rote Americana, it is not just a Prelude to the “meat and potatoes” of the Constitution. “We the people” was the first order of business for the framers. By making “We the people” the very first utterance of this Constitution they were establishing democratic ideation. The framers could have written (at least the Preamble) from another voice such as “We the several States,” “We, the delegates of this constitutional convention,” or even “We, framers on behalf of the people.”

It was not to be so. In the beginning was the people, and the people were the United States. The people ordained and established a constitution.

In 1862 the Morrill Land-Grant Act “committed the Federal Government to grant each state 30,000 acres of public land [. . .] for each of its Representatives and Senators in Congress.” The states instructed sell the land–creating endowments which in turn would support land-grant colleges. However, the colleges had to make a commitment. The cost of higher education must remain within reach of Americans of average financial means. Land-grant institutions were even called “democracy colleges.”

We the people of the United States give inception and authority to the Constitution. It is from this Constitution that authority in our nation arises. Under this authority, these United States have established land-grant universities. This is the etiology of our agency. It is so undeniable.

Is anyone else tired of ignoring the elephant in the room?

Penn State is Pennsylvania’s only land-grant institution. It is often this land-grant commitment that is cited in calls for reform to the costs of a Penn State education, which we can clearly see has serious public consequences.

Faculty, staff, alumni, families, friends, and benefactors all embody this university. But no one more so than students. You and I, in semiotic commune with the framers of the constitution, give life to and accordingly ordain the purpose of the Pennsylvania State University. “We the people” are Penn State’s way of being. It is by our collective consciousness that this University attains its vital principle, becomes aware, and fulfills its purpose.

It is for this reason that I want to commend President Christian Ragland and the UPUA for organizing the walk on Tuesday. I could not bear the thought of not doing something to encourage other students to participate.

To the extent that we all represent Penn State, our lack of participation in the recent rally in Harrisburg has been fairly criticized. I did not participate myself. That was a mistake.

Still, I have chosen to take an optimistic view of the situation. If we were underrepresented at the Rally at the Rotunda, we have a tremendous opportunity on Tuesday to do something about it.

Doris Haddock, who walked across America in her 90th year to protest for campaign finance reform, once said, “If money equals speech, than those who have more money, have more speech.”

On Tuesday, I will be walking to affirm my belief that access to opportunities for everyone is just as important at this university as it is in the heart of this country.

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