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For the Future That We Wait: A Penn State Class of 2020 Crystal Ball

by on August 30, 2016 5:00 AM

Almost four decades ago I arrived in Happy Valley with a few thousand other bright-eyed freshmen from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. As I search my memory I don’t recall meeting anyone who grew up outside that triumvirate until my fourth year here – and that was someone from Tennessee.

I’m sure there were students from other states, but considering the airport terminal at the time was housed in a shed it likely wasn’t practical for anyone farther than a four- or five-hour drive to go to school at Penn State. Train service wasn’t any better than it is now, and bus service was, well, bus service. Greyhound or Trailways. Consequently the “Ride Boards” and ads in the Collegian for sharing trips in someone else’s car were a very popular method of transportation to and from campus.

Whatever our mode of transport, arrive here we did, all of us with hopes and dreams of what we wanted to “do” when we grew up. Some of us achieved those dreams, some of us changed dreams partway through, and some of us kept waking up in the middle of the dream only to finally realize we had no idea what we wanted to do.

Last week some 8,000 freshmen started attending classes in Happy Valley. The Class of 2020 is now in the house! And they have their hopes and dreams of what they want to do.

So let’s look in the future – what will this disparate group of young individuals do with their lives after they graduate? What unique accomplishments will they attain? What great never-before heights will they climb? What achievement no other Penn Stater has ever done will they realize? Dear Old State will mold them, but into what? Ten, 20, 50 years from now, what exclusive things will members of the Class of 2020 have done to swell the fame of Penn State?

Football season starts in five days with a game in Beaver Stadium against Kent State. Will the Class of 2020 give us the Penn State graduate whose reach does not exceed his grasp and goes on to quarterback an NFL team to a Super Bowl title? (Notice I said “Penn State graduate” for those thinking of Jeff Hostetler).

Men’s soccer – the other futbol – started their season this past weekend by tying defending national champion Stanford on their home field. Will the class of 2020 give us the first Nittany Lion men’s soccer player to guide the United States national team to a World Cup title? Or even a World Cup final?

The Summer Olympics in Rio ended just over a week ago and more athletes and coaches with a Penn State connection participated than in any prior Olympic games. Will the class of 2020 yield a grad winning Penn State’s first individual gold medal in one of the marquee summer sports – swimming or gymnastics? Or given the age that most of the winners in those disciplines are when they win (exceptions like Michael Phelps aside), will an individual gold medal winner in one of those sports choose to go to school at Penn State?

Continuing with one of the other popular professional sports in this country – will the class of 2020 have someone who becomes the first Penn Stater to play on an NBA championship team? (Play, not coach, in case anyone was thinking Johnny Bach – who went to college at Fordham anyway).

What are the heavens for if not to explore and Penn State has a history in space. To date, three graduates -- Paul Weitz, Guy Bluford Jr., and Bob Cenker -- and one current professor, Jim Pawelczyk, have all served as astronauts and seen the earth as the blue dot in space it is. Last year the movie “The Martian” about a fictional Mars mission was nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor Academy Awards. Will the class of 2020 give us the first Penn Stater to land on Mars?

Speaking of Academy Awards, Penn State grads and twin brothers Julius and Philip Epstein won the 1944 Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay for the movie “Casablanca” – my personal choice for greatest movie of all time (“As Time Goes By” was the first song at our wedding). Will a talented theatrical member of the class of 2020 deliver to Penn State it’s first-ever Best Actor Academy Award winner? (I can see it now… “I’d like to thank the Academy, and all my fantastic professors at Penn State…”)

Speaking of theatrics, with a name like State College it seems only fair that one or more of the Mayors of State College would have been a Penn State grad, and that is the case. But students comprise over 70 percent of the population of the Borough of State College – almost three out of every four Borough residents is a student. With that large a voter base is it possible that a member of the class of 2020 will become the first-ever mayor who is also an undergraduate student?

And while thinking of politics we can’t ignore the greatest political office in this country – the President of the United States. Twelve U.S. Presidents did not graduate from college. For those fans of the television show Suits, 16 Presidents were lawyers but did not attend law school. Most importantly, no U.S. President has ever graduated from Penn State. With nearly 650,000 living alumni it seems reasonable that someone would have risen to the challenge. Will the class of 2020 generate Penn State’s most visible alumnus for generations – a President of the United States?

For the future that we wait, whatever these 8,000 strong individuals do when they get their sheepskin and leave this valley of happiness, we hope no act of theirs brings shame, and instead whenever possible creates a first-of-its-kind legacy in their chosen field. Have a great four years and as the famous Vulcan says, live long and prosper!


John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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