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Holly Swanson: Those Who Know vs. Those Who Know Not

by on October 17, 2012 6:00 AM

I attended a fundraising luncheon last week in Hershey and fell into the standard chit-chat with my tablemates. We talked about what we did, why we were at the event, some of us mentioned our kids. I avoided asking anyone where they were from because I knew they would reciprocate. Experience tells me that at that point, the conversation would take a turn.

But while a neighbor and I were busy figuring out which fork to use for the salad, the man sitting next to me said, “So, Holly, where are you from?” I briefly thought about saying Philadelphia, where I was raised, or Florida, where I went to college, but I went with it. “I’m from State College.”

If you’ve met random strangers outside of State College in the past 11 months, you’ve likely had a similar experience. My conversation partner purses his lips together and nods his head slowly. He gets the same look on his face as he would if I’d just told him that my cat died, but it’s OK because I have six more. Those outside State College are curious to learn more and to get some “insider” information. And that’s OK, as long as they are Those Who Know.

First, I’d like to talk about the other group: Those Who Know Not. These are the folks who, armed with a little bit of information they’ve seen in newspapers and online, know everything about the scandal. They know about Joe Paterno protecting his good friend Jerry Sandusky so he could keep raping boys. They know that the Second Mile was founded just to pimp out boys. They know that the whole university was in cahoots for decades so Jerry could keep harming innocent boys. But this was all done to protect the image of the football team. Those Who Know Not also feel, very strongly, that the football program should be shut down for good or, at the least, a few years. Some of them, on the fringe, actually believe the whole university should close.

These people are just plain batty. I blame the media for perpetuating the myth that this whole thing was nothing more than a sordid sex scandal, as demonstrated in the photo on the right. But I also blame Those Who Know Not for not educating themselves about what happened and for not making their own conclusions. They’d rather focus on the racy details and feed into the anger and prejudice that’s developed toward Penn State.

Those Who Do Know, however, are friendlies. They have read past the initial headlines and ignored the talking heads to come to their own simple, but truthful, conclusions — something terrible, perpetuated by a monster in coach’s clothing, happened here. At the same time, Those Who Do Know know that the people who should have noticed, didn’t.

Those Who Do Know are sympathetic and want to know how things are going in State College. I tell them honestly that things are just fine. We are just fine. But I like to mention that we were always fine, even though we were in the middle of a media frenzy and a few tense days when no one seemed to know what was going on.

There are some people who think State College and Penn State are culpable in this whole Sandusky saga. There are others who think we are victims. The real victims are the boys, the close friends and family of Sandusky, and the children who will not benefit from the valuable programs that will no longer be offered through The Second Mile.

So to those wondering, State College is doing well. We are not victims, we are not perpetrators. We were shocked by what happened, just like any community would be. We are also shocked when someone gets killed in a car accident, dies of cancer, or gets assaulted. But, as a whole, we don’t blame ourselves for these tragedies and neither should anyone else.

So when you travel and you tell people where you are from, look for Those Who Know. They are rational and intelligent and will surprise you with their insight, especially the ones who have really been paying attention. When you run into Those Who Know Not, it’s best to just nod and pretend that they are telling you about their dead cat. You can’t change their minds, and we have better things to do here in Happy Valley.

Recent columns:

Holly Swanson is a State College-based freelance writer. She is on Twitter @statecollegemom and can be reached via email at [email protected]
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