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Jay Paterno: No Penn State Class has Ever Been More Important Than 2012

by on May 03, 2012 6:00 AM

For every graduating class at every school in the country, there is a commencement message conveyed about a pivotal moment in the lives of the graduates.

Rarely can one talk about a graduating class being pivotal in that university’s history, but this year, at this time at Penn State, it is true.

Everyone is aware of what has happened at Penn State over the past several months. Everyone knows that Penn Staters have had to endure a lot of scrutiny and media coverage and unwanted attention. However, about a week ago when I was asked to speak at the senior sendoff sponsored by the Lion Ambassadors, my message was a challenge.

I told the members of the Class of 2012 that they may be the most important class to ever come out of Penn State. So many have come here, but none have ever seen what these graduates have seen since arriving at Penn State.

Most of them arrived here in the fall of 2008 at a time of historic national and world events. Coming in that fall they saw a world on the verge of economic collapse. Chaos reigned on Wall Street as firms and banks collapsed or merged.

At Penn State, students engaged in a historic election that fall. Record student turnout at the HUB gave a voice to the young people of America. The next several years would see dramatic events like the Haitian Earthquakes, a devastating tsunami in Japan and a mass murder of 77 people in the Netherlands.

How can we forget images of Penn State students beamed around the world on cable news as they gathered to celebrate the killing of Osama Bin Laden? Yet that was just a taste of a media storm brewing just outside our peaceful Happy Valley.

Just a few months later, the media would return and not to report a celebration. Our students had to dodge satellite trucks and hear the name of the school they loved torn down. Every day brought more news and more developments.

Left standing in the crosshairs of the world media, our students stood and refused to be defined by the world around them. Into the breach they rushed and rallied for cause after cause. Visibly shaken by what was happening, their resolve never wavered. Each time I saw students, they were determined to make an impact through a positive act.

Students raised so much money for so many causes that one could not ignore their acts. By their example the entire Penn State community was forced to recognize their pride, a force bigger than any one of us and any horde of people against us. Over those next three months they arrived at a moment that will live in all Penn Staters.

The Sunday night of Dance Marathon 2012 will stand for eternity. Resounding across the planet was the total of nearly $10.7 million raised to help the Four Diamonds Fund and to battle pediatric cancer.

Even now the thought of that announcement brings a smile to the faces of good people everywhere.

So now, the challenge to the Class of 2012 is this; take what you have done and build upon it. Insert yourself into the world in a way that tells Penn State’s story all over again. Go to every part of the world and begin your job, or grad school or whatever your next step in life may be and represent the unchanged Penn State values.

No senior class ever needed to graduate and represent Penn State in a larger way than your class.

When people ask where you went to school, hold your head high and say “Penn State.” How you work and how you live will send a message to everyone you come in contact with about Penn State. Yes, they will want to know what happened here and they will want to know if Penn State wavered from our core values, but your example will enlighten them.

You are the first point of contact; you are our best ambassadors. The example of your life will be what re-introduces people to what we have always been about.

A Penn State graduate is someone who holds a degree, a piece of paper that records your time and the achievement of a goal. But a Penn Stater buys into the values and beliefs and takes to the world an attitude that no challenge is too big and no mountain is too high. Penn Staters take with them a legacy of giving back and helping others.

The challenge to the Class of 2012 is to be more than just graduates. Go into the world as Penn Staters and not just Penn State graduates.

Yours is the first new charge, one that will show them all that We Are and Will Always Remain Penn State.

Recent Columns:

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
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