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State Patty's Day: Reflection of Indiscretions

by on February 25, 2010 7:00 AM

The uproar over this year’s State Patty’s Day began shortly after the date had been announced. University and borough leaders have decried an entire day devoted to drinking as a sign that this generation of young people has somehow reached a new low.

Before there is any misunderstanding, I must say that I am in no way supporting the idea of State Patty’s Day, and I understand the terrible toll excessive drinking exacts on individuals and on society. I understand that there is a spike in the amount of crime on State Patty’s Day, and that some students do get into trouble and make mistakes.

But to believe that this event somehow signals a new depravity on the part of our students is to deny the history of Penn State and State College.

I hate to break it to you, but Penn State and State College have seen wilder days. Not that it excuses some of the things that are happening now, but some perspective is needed.

A wise man once told me that the hardest thing to do when you reach 60 is to remember what you were like when you were 20. Upon further reflection, it turns out that previous generations were also pretty bad in their youth.

State Patty’s Day is filling a void that was once filled by The Sy Barash Regatta, Gentle Thursday, The Briarwood Bash, The Sailor’s Ball (which included eating live goldfish)  and another event that involved eating live salamanders (what would P.E.T.A. think of that?). All of these events occurred in the Spring and involved—you guessed it--all-day drinking.

The main Spring event was The Phi Psi 500—a day long race where runners ran a road course through downtown State College and into and out of six or seven bars. The course was around one mile in length, and in each bar the runners would chug a beer.

There was no borough ordinance banning open containers of alcohol, so the streets were lined with spectators drinking beers they brought from home. The sidewalks were four and five people deep as thousands of spectators turned out to watch the serious runners in the morning and then watch the “runners” wearing costumes who turned the race into a parade.

The charity event filled bars, restaurants and hotels in town during a slow time of the year. Ultimately the powers that be felt the event that was inconsistent with the image we wanted for the town and for the university. Sound familiar?

But wait there’s more...

Until the mid-1980s it was permissible to have parties in the dorms—parties that included the consumption of alcohol. All a student had to do was register the party with the resident assistant and get the okay. Once the okay was given, students could roll kegs into the study lounge on a Friday or Saturday night, get a D.J. and the party was on.

Golf Parties were common as well—a golf party being one where 18 different dorm rooms each served a different drink. The goal for some was to play all eighteen holes.

There’s more...

Would you believe that hard-core, XXX-rated, pornography used to be shown in the Forum on campus each weekend?

At that time student groups would rent films from a distributor and show them on campus—charging a fee to raise money for their organizations. I saw plenty of films on campus from Stripes, to Monty Python to a black and white version of Hamlet that my mom dragged me to when I was 10.

Some enterprising student groups realized that there was money to be made by showing pornography and charging people to see it. They even ran ads for the movies in The Collegian. The administration knew about it and did nothing for years.

At least it was an alcohol-free event.

I do not condone the behavior that occurred on past State Patty’s Days, or all the things that happened years ago. I simply raise them as evidence that Penn State and State College have had a long complicated relationship with alcohol. This is in no way a new phenomenon, nor is it likely to ever completely go away.

The truth of the matter is that as a person gets older it is human nature for the memory to get hazy at the edges—particularly the less-flattering edges of youthful indiscretion. They tend to look at the successive generations as being ever less virtuous in their behavior than their generation.

No generation ever held a monopoly on virtue—nor has any generation cornered the market on debauchery.

Having walked into the Bryce Jordan Center this past weekend as thousands upon thousands of students raised $7.8 million for pediatric cancer, I find it hard to condemn an entire group for what may or may not happen this Saturday on State Patty’s Day.



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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