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Jay Paterno: You Will Always Be Penn State

by on August 25, 2011 12:01 AM

As the sun peaked over the crest of Mount Nittany on Monday morning, The Pennsylvania State University's 156th school year was born.

For the newest group of freshmen, it was the dawning of their first classes at Penn State. The business of education was at hand.

But their Penn State education will not be limited to the classroom. Hardly.

No matter how a student gets to Penn State, he and she will ultimately discover that Penn State teaches lessons far beyond the textbook and the blue book, that there is lasting value inherent to the Penn State experience -- from the first days as a freshman to decades later as a loyal alum.

Penn State is a journey that molds us.

As it states in the alma mater, many of us arrived here “when we stood at childhood’s gate, shapeless in the hands of fate.” This journey comes complete with hills, valleys twists and turns. The path winds along a route created by choices made by each student, as well as turns forced onto the student by circumstances of life beyond their control.

For all Penn Staters, it essentially runs along the same basic tracks. But depending on where you look or when you ride the train, the scenery and the things you take away will be different. Still, that track remains constant.

That journey -- and Penn State itself -- become many things as we pass along the way.

PENN STATE IS…

Penn State is a sunrise over Mount Nittany.

Penn State is breakfast in the dining halls or at the HUB. Or an Irving’s bagel. Or a cup of coffee with the townies on College or Beaver.

Penn State is a tuition bill, a student loan and an annual tuition hike.

Penn State is the route that takes you from your dorm or apartment to your classes – and a route where you see the same people every day along the way. (Penn State was that pretty dark-haired, blue-eyed girl I passed every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in my junior year.)

Penn State is running out of meal plan points before the semester ends or having too many to dump with days to go.

Penn State is a jam-packed bus ride on the Loop on a cold rainy day. Penn State used to mean having a roll of quarters handy when the Loop used to cost 25 cents.

Penn State is a class in Willard or a class in the Forum. Penn State is an 8 a.m. class at the building on campus that is furthest from where you live.

Penn State is the Willard preacher.

Penn State is acing a test you studied for. Penn State is not doing well on the one you didn’t prepare for. Either way, Penn State is learning a lesson about how to succeed or not succeed in life.

Penn State is that professor who tells you that you are capable of doing even better.

Penn State is a group project and late night meetings fueled by coffee or Red Bull or Diet Coke (or, in days of old, NoDoz caffeine pills).

PENN STATE IS ALSO...

Penn State is hanging out in the HUB between classes or at lunch or just because.

Penn State is a sorority or fraternity or a team or an interest group that gives you a base foundation of relationships to build upon.

Penn State is holding hands with a special someone walking across campus on a warm spring night. It’s wearing a jacket again to face the first cold snap of the fall. It’s being bundled up as the snow falls.

Penn State is the flash of light in the eyes of the girl you asked to dance at a party.

Penn State is late night pizza. And grilled stickies.

Penn State is the electricity in the air on a crisp fall Friday afternoon the day before a big home football game.

Penn State is a fall Saturday afternoon in a white-clad Beaver Stadium — the heart of Penn State pumping energy and pride outward to Penn Staters all over the country and the world.

Penn State is the earth-shattering roar as the record-setting fundraising THON numbers are held up on Sunday evening.

Penn State is alumni crowding into The Tavern, or revisiting the old haunts that still stand, like The Skellar, The Brewery or Zeno’s.

Penn State is several hundred at an alumni event in Scranton or several dozen at one in L.A.

Penn State is my friend going to work out in Germany wearing a PSU shirt and hearing from across the hotel gym, “We Are…”

PENN STATE IS ULTIMATELY...

Penn State, ultimately, is the place where you are forced to turn inward and rely on your classmates. As a college town far away from the population centers of the state and the East Coast, Penn State is a society unto itself. The isolation forces students to bond with one another through a shared set of experiences, places and events.

Penn State is those ties that bind Penn Staters to each other in ways that don’t fade with time, nor lessen with distance. Across the miles and across the generations, we all share some common experiences that lead to a unifying love of our alma mater.

But we are now reminded that Penn State all starts with that first sunrise, that first week, that first test, that first party.

Penn State builds from standing at childhood’s gate. And although Penn State will certainly mold you through college, its effect on your life will never end.

You will always be Penn State.



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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