State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Farewell For Now

by on March 06, 2014 6:40 AM

This will be my last column for StateCollege.com for awhile.

With my current candidacy for Lieutenant Governor I (along with the website's editorial team) feel that in the interest of fairness it would be best for me to step away from this for the time being.

It has been a great four years writing here and it has been one of the joys of my life. I have appreciated all the feedback I have received from readers — both positive and negative.

Mostly I have enjoyed the challenge of the creative process and the ability to voice opinions and write on a range of topics — from losing my dog Rosey, to college athletics, politics and simple observations about life.

I want to leave you with a column on a growing trend across this state that stands to benefit Penn State over the long run.

Last weekend I emceed The NYC Hope Gala in New York City to raise money for THON — the Penn State Dance Marathon which benefs the Four Diamonds Fund and its fight against pediatric cancer. Over the years I have gone to these types of events in several places and they bring so many Penn Staters together.

What I hear about, more and more at these events, are parents talking about the Mini-THONs their middle school and high school children are involved with. Collectively, all the Mini-THONs are raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for THON. They are also getting young people involved in philanthropy and service at an early age.

These parents are so proud of their children and they should be. There are important lessons to be learned by our youth who are engaged in service -- to be part of something at their schools bigger than just the daily pattern of homework and exams. It builds community.

When I was in ninth grade State College High School had a Dance Marathon — twenty-eight hours — that raised money for charity. I managed to make it through that, but I'd learned something more valuable, a commitment to doing something for others.

In North Carolina, Penn State alum and educator Mike Meyers started a Dance Marathon at his middle school after bringing a busload of students up to see THON. On two occasions I was fortunate to meet with his students while they were visiting. THON inspired those students to do something in their community. The event at their school has grown every year.

Those are the types of things we hope our children will learn — the importance of service to their fellow citizens who have challenges they need to overcome.

As it relates to the Mini-THONs there is a real benefit for Penn State beyond money raised for Penn State's Hershey Children's Hospital. Young people all across the state learn about THON and form a connection to Penn State. THON becomes the beacon, the biggest stage of college philanthropy, and an incentive for potential students to apply to the university.

Let me draw a comparison that illustrates the point.

Many high school student-athletes who wrestle or play women's volleyball, or football (or so many other sports) dream of playing at Penn State. What I hear from parents of mini-THON leaders is similar. They tell me how much their children dream of coming to Penn State and being involved in THON.

Quietly this has become a great recruiting tool for Penn State. It attracts the interest of students involved in Mini-THONs — who by and large are highly-motivated, organized, great students and interested in service to others.

That is a big deal. THON has become the major leagues for these young people and the only way to get there is by attending Penn State.

Without realizing it — a feeder program has been established and it is benefiting the university in a big way. It draws some of the best and brightest who fill the classrooms with academically talented people who will also use their talents in THON — the greatest show on any college campus.

Often in life there are unintended consequences. Most of the time they are negative. That is clearly not the case here as THON and Mini-THONs continue to raise Penn State's profile and increase pride in the university. It has created a powerful draw for top-notch students  who dream of being on the floor, or on a committee or canning year round for that moment Sunday afternoon when the final fund-raising totals are revealed inside the Bryce Jordan Center.

THON has become a field of dreams for young people across the state, for the children and their families whose lives are saved by the Four Diamonds Fund -- but also for countless more who get engaged in their own local communities through Mini-THONs and embark on a path that they hope will bring them to Penn State.

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State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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