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Jay Paterno: Penn State Love and Loyalty

by on November 03, 2011 6:22 AM

I was recently asked to speak to Penn State’s Alumni Council, a group of dedicated Penn State volunteers who govern the nation’s largest alumni association.

It was an honor to stand among so many accomplished people. So this week, I thought I’d share a part of the message that I presented to them:

You may have seen an evocative new Penn State football video that is being shown in Beaver Stadium on game days this season. In it, there are powerful images accompanied by stirring music and the words of the Alma Mater.

My favorite part appears after the words “Sing Our Love and Loyalty” fill the screen. There is black and white footage of Joe Paterno and Rip Engle walking across a snow-covered Beaver Stadium field in 1966, just after Joe was named to succeed his mentor.

Love and Loyalty. Across the years, that is what I have learned most from Penn State.

I have seen, and then been a part of this, firsthand through all stages of my life. Why does a school refuse to cut corners and instead insist that their coaches pursue Success With Honor? Because it is a tradition marked not just in years but in decades, a phrase that has its roots in Joe Paterno’s 1973 commencement address.

Why are Penn State’s ideals so important? Because the value of a Penn State education is like a stock on the exchange. It is not a static value; our diploma’s worth is only equal to the market strength of Penn State’s reputation in the here and now.

A BOND AMONG 570,000

The love for and loyalty to Penn State is a bond, an agreement even, among 570,000 living alumni – we understand that what each and everyone of us does not only heightens the Penn State name for ourselves, but for 569,999 other Penn Staters as well. It is a code by which our alumni live.

Just as quickly, that value can be gone.

An athletic scandal, an academic impropriety, exorbitant salaries, rampant grade inflation. These can quickly overtake a school’s long history of academic achievement with single selfish acts.

But that is why Penn State – in the classroom, on the playing fields, among the most loyal alumni in the nation -- fights to do things the right way.

Penn State is not perfect, but the university demands a standard that compels the pursuit of the ideal.

The reputation is the work of student-athletes and coaches in all sports at Penn State. But it is also a commitment by the school’s administration and by alumni and friends understanding a culture and a way of doing things, successfully with honor.

For years, Penn State leaders and presidents have used their platform to advance the interests of the commonwealth and the country.

Truth be told, Penn State is a national leader every day. The university’s research has led to breakthroughs in everything from food safety to agriculture, from renewable energy to defense research. Penn State’s world-class researchers and prize-winning academics proudly impact my life – and yours – every day.

We all know these are challenging times in this country. For centuries, this commonwealth and this institution have always been a part of each surge and each renaissance following challenging times in America.

Years ago oil and coal came from the ground of this state to energize and fuel the nation’s growth. The factories of this state made the steel and concrete and the industrial innovations that helped the boom of this nation’s industrial era.

Today, schools like Penn State are the furnaces where we forge American competitiveness and leadership for the future — as a state and as a nation. Now Penn State must provide the brainpower for the innovations of the future.

MORE WITH LESS

2011 has seen big cuts in state funding for Penn State. To be fair, many on both sides of the aisle fought to restore as much funding as possible. But we also must realize that the commonwealth will never restore the level of funding that is sufficient or deserved.

Penn State must be a school that accomplishes more with less, finding ever-more efficient systems to educate the people of the commonwealth. What is done here echoes beyond campus to the commonwealth, the country and across the globe. And that must continue.

The challenge of 2011 is a generation of young people graduating from college, with a burden of student loans and an entry into a job market where competition for a salary comes from around the world -- from Harrisburg to Hong Kong, from Bethlehem to Beijing, from Philly to Frankfurt, from Boyertown to Bangalore, and from Pittsburgh to Sao Paolo.

Most of the nations we are competing against have government support at levels that exceed the support we give to education here in America. Therefore, the burden at a school like Penn State falls on its alumni and friends.

It falls on them – actually, us -- to advance the cause of Penn State and move this institution forward. It falls on us to help maintain access to an education that is within reach for the best and brightest the university can attract.

On the heels of a national football championship, it was in January 1983 that Joe Paterno challenged the trustees to engage Penn State’s friends, alumni and benefactors to dig deeper. His call was the first for a structured and ambitious fundraising campaign in the university’s history.

WE...ARE

The goal: To take the spirit of “We…Are” that echoes across Beaver Stadium and leverage that connection, pride, that love and loyalty.

The idea – then and now -- is to transfer those wonderful and heartfelt intangibles into dollars that will erect buildings, increase endowments and help young people realize their dreams and their vast potential.

The challenge has always been to create a university that prepares its students to meet the future, to compete with the world’s finest and to do it without having to financially mortgage their futures. Only then can Penn State continue to honor the challenge laid down to the nation’s land grant colleges in the Morrill Act of 1862.

Now, their dreams remain our dreams.

Yes, a century-and-a-half later it is easy to forget the humble roots of The Farmer’s High School.

But, like Penn Staters today, their love and loyalty built – and continues to build -- the success and honor that are The Pennsylvania State University.



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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