Photo courtesy of the LA Times
Since Friday afternoon I have read countless articles, posts and tweets about my beloved Penn State University. Most of them are uninformed. Many of them point fingers. None of them know or tell the entire story. They can’t. It is a story about power, lost innocence and selfishness that is bigger than any one person. For this reason, I will not attempt to tell the entire story; just my own story, one that is echoed by thousands of students and fans across this campus.
Every child has a role model. Some kids look up to their parents while others look up to superheroes. Some idolize their favorite singers while others aspire to be like their favorite athlete. I, like thousands of others, have grown up idolizing The Pennsylvania State University.
I remember a time when I was six years old that I cried because my parents would not let me go into the Penn State versus Pittsburgh game. Later, growing up in Switzerland, I always looked forward to our October holiday when we got off school, simply so I could fly over-seas for a Penn State game or two.
My point is, I have always viewed Happy Valley like it was paradise, and have driven its morals into every aspect of my life because of it. Like many, I have not lived as though “Success with Honor” and “May No Act of Ours Bring Shame” are merely words or phrases. They are creeds. They are unwritten contracts that every man and woman signs the minute they consider themselves a Penn Stater. Or so I thought.
I thought these contracts meant that I would live a life that showed the world what Penn State was about. They have caused me to go to class every day, regardless of fatigue or sickness, as to not let down the academic side of the university. They have caused me to camp at Paternoville and show up early to every home game, as to continue proving that Penn State has the best student section in the country. They have caused me to greet every visiting fan with a smile and a handshake, as to live out the sportsmanship that the university preaches. And all the university has to do to keep up its end of these contracts is to bring me reason and joy in fulfilling my part. For the past twenty years I believed it was performing this admirably. This week I learned it has been failing tragically.
I am not here to outline the allegations; you know them. I am here to attempt to display the reactions and atmosphere here in Happy Valley by outlining my own. But how can I? The air here is so dynamic – there is shame, hurt and confusion. I feel all of these. But there is also pride in the Pennsylvania State University, a school that was ranked by corporate recruiters as the best school in the country. There is joy and celebration “For The Kids”, since today marks one-hundred days until the largest student run philanthropy in the world, THON, which raises money for pediatric cancer patients. Still, many say they feel like this is a bad dream that we will all wake up from, but no dream can harbor the vibrant and detailed emotions that have made this autumn air so heavy.
And that might truly be the reaction here at Penn State – that there is too much to comprehend. We still have exams this week, but we cannot walk through the library without reporters disrupting and questioning us. We still support our team, but we cannot do so publicly without being told that we are supporting criminal activity. We feel shame and betrayed in what a man did, but understand that he and a few others are not representative of what this university stands for. We Are compassionate, and want to show that by helping victims of child abuse. We Are a community, and no matter how tough the situation gets, we will stick together and make this school’s name great again. Because We Are – Still – Penn State.