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At Penn State Vigil, 'This Is about Humanity'

on November 12, 2011 9:58 AM

Under a bright moon on a crystal night, they poured out by the thousands.

They filled the Old Main steps, the patio and the lawn, inundating the iconic Penn State space with song, prayer and candlelight.

They came, they said, to give voice to the victims, to unify in support for those whose lives have been devastated by childhood sexual abuse.

In the wake of the devastating child-sex-abuse allegations against former football coach Jerry Sandusky, demonstrators said Friday night, Penn Staters must stand together with the identified victims. And Penn Staters must work to prevent future abuse, they said.

"We have an obligation to do what is right because we always have had an obligation to do what is right," said Dustin Yenser, a 2007 Penn State graduate and local teacher, speaking from the Old Main steps.

Doing what's right, he said, is what makes people human.

"What will break my heart ... is if (abuse victims) are forced to bear the burden ... alone," Yenser said, soon adding: "We are Penn State. We are hurt. We are sorry."

But what matters most now, Yenser said, "is that we are here for you," the victims.

Students organized the roughly hour-long candlelight vigil at Old Main, a community-wide, tearful outpouring in the wake of the Sandusky allegations and cover-up charges.

New Penn State President Rodney Erickson, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims and other university leaders were among those in attendance. (The trustees have removed the word "interim" from Erickson's new title, though Erickson said he is still acting in an interim capacity.)

The crowd, among the biggest ever seen at Old Main, also included a number of Nebraska football fans, in town for the Saturday game at Beaver Stadium.

Former Penn State football player LaVar Arrington said that "something this evil" -- child sexual abuse -- is a call to duty for Penn Staters.

"This is a challenge for all of us," he said from the steps. " ... The worst crime we can commit is to leave here and forget ... ."

It's the duty of the Penn State community to protect the abused and to "restore the pride of Old State," Arrington said.

"This is a call. It's our time, and it's our duty," he said. "This serves as the ultimate wake-up call."

Arrington went on later: "This is about humanity. We always answer the call. I'm here to tell you I'm going to be a voice. I'm going to fight."

Students, employees and alumni at the university have already begun to coalesce around the fight against sexual abuse. A grassroots Penn State campaign is aiming to raise $500,000 for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Thousands of students plan to wear blue to the Saturday football game as a show of solidarity for the cause.

Back at Old Main on Friday night, the university's Blue Band played. Students performed songs a capella, including John Lennon's "Imagine" and Coldplay's "Fix You." And "We are Penn State" chants echoed powerfully off nearby buildings. (To see photos from the gathering, click on the large image posted above.)

"I am so encouraged and overwhelmed by the sheer number of you here," undergraduate student-body President TJ Bard told the crowd. "This is what Penn State is about. This is who we are. We cannot let the actions of a few define us. ...

"May we fight until no child is harmed again."

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