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Patty Kleban: What We Learned in 2012

by on December 24, 2012 6:00 AM

Inevitably at this time of year, we see magazine and newspaper editorial boards and online columnists compile the end of the year lists. The best and worst of the past year. The most important people. The events that changed our nation or our state or even our own small communities. With the New Year just around the corner, this time of year provides us with a fresh start and the opportunity to do more or do better and to learn from the events of the past year.

For me and for my family, 2012 was a milestone year. We celebrated several once in a lifetime events this past year. A Penn State graduation and a first real world job. A 25th wedding anniversary. The last of my three turning 16 and getting his learners permit. The past year also offered us many new experiences. Celebrating New Year’s Eve on the promenade deck of a cruise ship. A house renovation. An old school that became a new school. New friends. This year also provided me with many opportunities to be thankful for what I have.

It also offered many opportunities for all of us to learn from our experiences.

We saw the horrors of one of the worst scandals in American history play out right on our doorstep. We learned about grooming and pedophilia and how the double life of a person intent on a crime can fool a lot of people.

We learned the ripple effect of decisions made by one and the mob mentality of a group.

We learned about the hope and faith of youth as our students stood with candles at a vigil or blue shirts in the stands or outside of a football practice facility saying, “we care.”

We saw incredible bravery on the part of young men who testified about that which they had tried so hard to forget. We learned that sometimes experts can miss what a mother knows is true.

We learned about double standards, selective sanctioning and how a university whose academic reputation remains impeccable can be accused of being too “football” oriented.

We saw the loss of a beloved coach and community leader. We watched his players and his fans and his family show incredible grace. We heard the haters who seemed to find perverse enjoyment in what they viewed was the fall of a hero. We learned that people often see what they want to see.

We saw the incredible leadership and inspiration of a new coach and his family who came into a situation that many said was doomed to fail. We watched that coach and the young men who agreed to follow -while somehow also leading - bring back our faith and our sense that there is truly good in the world. We learned that after despair there can sometimes be hope. We learned perspective.

We learned that change takes time.

We saw our nation continue to be divided and angry and distrustful in a political election that brought new meaning to the words mudslinging and bi-partisan. We saw faith in government on the state and national level fall to record levels as our political party or our individual agendas became more important than our status as Americans. We learned words like fiscal cliff and debt ceiling and faced the knowledge that our children and their children will face untenable financial circumstances if we don’t come together to fix the mess that we created.

We watched the sacrifice of those who serve. Whether in a forward zone in Afghanistan, on a military base stateside or in a jail in Mexico, we learned that we need to get better and keep getting better at taking care of our own.

We saw nations come together in London for the Olympics while their governments were at war. We saw continued struggles over politics, religion and land in the Middle East. We saw political uprisings fueled through social media and the death of four Americans in an incident for which we still haven’t learned the truth.

We learned the power of one and the wisdom of crowds.

We learned that 15,000 Penn State students can come together and raise $10 million to fight pediatric cancer.

We met parents. Courtney O’Bryan’s parents. The Whiteheads. The Raque family. Aurora, Colo. Hershey Medical Center. Newtown, Conn. We learned that change in policy sometimes comes from tragedy.

We met heroes. We met a Children and Youth Services worker who cared more about a child than the fame of the perpetrator. We met a little girl from Philipsburg who has become the face of the victory over cancer and whose bravery will likely change the lives of other children who face the same struggles. We learned about incredible teachers who sacrificed their own lives to protect someone else’s children.

As a nation, we learned that in times of unspeakable tragedy, we come together.

In 2012, I personally learned many things. I learned that old friends – and new ones – can make a difference. I learned that sometimes a decision that makes one happy is more important than anything else. I learned that there are angels hiding in places like high school counseling offices, children’s hospital nursing units, on Facebook and in my own family. I learned that as my children get older, they know people and things that I don’t know and that it makes me so proud. I find my lives enriched by the friends and experiences that they bring into their lives. In 2012, I was reminded of the gifts of health, a roof over my head, a job that I love and a husband and children that are blessings each and every day.

Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or Channukah or Kwanzaa or nothing at all, the New Year lets us all look ahead to new opportunities and a new beginning.

Happy Holidays and have a great 2013.

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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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