Saturday, November 12, 2011

Penn State

I have spent the past week thinking a lot about college. I keep thinking I should write something here -- and people who know I went to Penn State have been asking me and emailing me about the events unfolding and wanting to know what I think. But to tell you the truth, I haven't felt I've had the words to say anything meaningful enough. Like so many people, and I guess, PSU alumni especially, I have been glued to all the press coverage. Horrified. Outraged. Shocked. Sickened. My husband (also a PSU alum.) and I have been discussing every new detail, dissecting all of it. Trying to make some sense of any of it. Of course, we can't. How could so many adults stand by and do nothing while children were being harmed in this way, and at our college, while we were going to school there? In many ways, to both of us, I think it's all felt surreal.

I guess it's because us Penn Staters, we feel our college years were something special. We are bonded together by this knowledge of four years spent in the idyllic Happy Valley of central Pennsylvania. I am always surprised, even now living all the way across the country, how often I run into Penn State grads, and how connected I feel to them. Nearly every time I wear my Penn State sweatshirt I find a connection. More than once, a stranger has called out the infamous "We are. . . " from across the street. Not that I don't do the same -- if I spot a Nittany Lion, I'll start talking to a stranger, too. A fellow PSU grad is not a stranger, after all. When I was in graduate school, I had a professor who always confused my undergrad school and thought I'd attended Penn, not Penn State. Sure maybe Penn is ivy league, but so what? I always corrected him. We PSU grads, we are a proud bunch.

And it's not just football. For me, it's not about football at all. Sure, I went to some games when I was there, and that was fun. And yes, when we saw Joe Paterno walking through the dining commons, we'd stop talking and stare, as if we'd spotted a celebrity in our midst. But these are not the things I think or remember when I think about my time at Penn State. I think about the people: my friends and my teachers. And the place: the snow and the brick buildings, the walk-able town. I long for that place sometimes now, the feeling that somewhere an idyllic small town, where people are nice and wholesome, that that still exists. I think about taking my kids to see it, when they're older. I think about what it was like to live there for some of the most formative years of my life. And I think for me, that is what has been taken away this past week. That all the beauty and the wholesomeness, that the entire idyllic backdrop of my college years, that it was a lie. And the worst kind of lie, at that. Because Happy Valley was not a safe and idyllic place after all, was it?

But, there are still the people. And I'm not talking about Paterno or Spanier or any of the rest of them, because these are not the people I think of when I think of Penn State. I think about the friends I made. I think about the graduate students and professors who taught me a lot, and not just about English, writing, sociology, theater, and yes, even astronomy. But about life. I learned to be a reader and a thinker and a dreamer. I made friends who did the same. And when I see another PSU alum, a stranger, these are the kinds of connections I feel I share with them.

One of the first nice things I've read about Penn State this past week led me to this website where Penn State alums are banding together to raise money for abuse victims. Their goal is to raise $500,000 and already, they are more than halfway there. My guess is, they will exceed their goal. That is the kind of Penn State I remember, anyway. I am happy to see that it wasn't all a lie.


David Blake said...

Explain to me why NO ONE is looking for that 10 year old boy, who is now 19, and if he hasn't' committed suicide yet, is having a worse week than anyone at Penn State has ever had, and that includes Paterno and the others

Jillian Cantor said...

I can't explain any of this, at all. I find the whole situation utterly unexplainable. I read somewhere this week, that there is a 24 hr hotline searching for victims, and that the phone there has been continually busy. It is horrific to think of what that boy and the other victims are going through. And I have a sinking feeling that this will become bigger.

I think for me, and the other alums. it's been a shift thinking about what we thought we knew versus what was actually happening beneath the surface while we were going to school there.

So many people who don't know PSU think of it only as football -- and maybe because that is SO visible. I finally decided to write a post, because I wanted to link to the fundraising site. There are many, many good people connected with Penn State, too.