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Patty Kleban: They Are Back

by on August 27, 2012 6:08 AM

They’re back.

The start of the academic year and the return of the students always bring a renewed sense of excitement to our sleepy summer town. We enjoy the quiet of the summer and the ease of access to parking and shopping and restaurants, but the energy and infusion of almost 40,000 new and returning students to Penn State and to our community every fall is a welcome sign of the new season.

The migration seemed to start earlier this year. Longer lines at the grocery store and at Starbucks, increased traffic on Beaver and College Avenue, and SUVs with out-of-state license plates, packed to the windows with dorm and apartment gear, have been evident since mid-August.

This year, more than most, we look forward to the start of a new year and of new beginnings.

The enthusiasm of youth is a paradox. They use that energy to raise money for pediatric cancer and also for lining the streets wearing green T-shirts on State Patty’s Day. They are sometimes brilliant in the classroom but can’t figure out how to cross the street in a cross walk. They drink underage but recycle their cans and bottles. The collective “they” will riot downtown if their favorite team wins a championship game but also come together to wear blue for sexual abuse awareness. They come from all over the country but will remain identified with our community for years to come as proud alumni.

Researchers in human development have identified the “young adult” stage of life as unique in that individuals from age 18-25, who make the decision to go to college, enjoy the odd juxtaposition of being independent without the consequences of having to be self-sufficient. Unlike their cohorts who enter the work force or the military, young adults who are out from under Mom and Dad’s watchful eye at school have a unique opportunity to live like grown-ups without necessarily having all the responsibility of being one.

We love their contribution but they sometimes drive us crazy. We need and appreciate them to keep this community going while at the same time seem to spend a lot of time finding ways to control the fervor for which they enjoy their freedoms.

In many ways, our attempts to manage the student population is not unlike that noisy band of crows who seasonally come to visit downtown State College. We appreciate their role in the whole cycle of nature and don’t necessarily want to harm them but at the same time don’t always like them on College Avenue because they are loud and dirty. We scheme and we plot and use loud noises to scare them away.

Recent stories in the news about unwanted student housing complexes and conflict of interest with rental permits in the borough exemplify the “in-between” status that we apply to students. In no other community and with no other identified group of people would we metaphorically send them to the back of the bus and say “You are not permitted to live here.”

Without them, we would all be lost.

The students are what State College and Penn State is all about. It has been and likely will continue to be the students who write the next chapters in Penn State history.

The events of the last year have served to remind us of the many gifts that our student population brings to our community. Along with their enthusiasm and their checkbooks, they bring a less jaded view of the world. They bring a sense of hopefulness that has somehow carried us through our recent hard times. Individually, they are young people who are beginning their life’s journey. Collectively, they are taking us along with them.

With the recent national focus on Happy Valley and the bad decisions made by some adults in our community, the students have kept us focused on the goal. They remain the best and the brightest and the most sought by recruiters. They raise millions of dollars and volunteer hours of time for all kinds of charities, not just THON. Their efforts and their ideals reach beyond the campus gates and even the boundaries of our state and country.

Today is the beginning of the new semester. Welcome back to all new and returning students. We are so glad that you are here.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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