Penn State Graduation: Seniors' College Journeys End After Turbulent Year
Commencement ceremonies are in full swing on the University Park campus, as Penn State seniors bid adieu to their home for the last four (or five) years.
It was a year like no other in the university's history, and it ends this weekend with more than 12,000 degrees being awarded this spring, broken down as so:
- 10,491 baccalaureate
- 1,311 master’s
- 609 associate
- 226 doctoral
- 219 law
- 131 medical
For many seniors, the Penn State they came to know through their time on campus was turned upside down in early November, when the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal swallowed campus life up like a tsunami.
Sandusky was charged with more than 52 counts in a child sexual abuse case, which led to the dismissals of president Graham Spanier and longtime football coach Joe Paterno.
A small percentage of students took to the streets to riot in wake of Paterno's dismissal, and a school and town remain in limbo as Sandusky's trial is scheduled for June and multiple investigations into the school continue.
In job interviews with Penn State alumni, graduate Brad Oliver said the scandal was brought up, but more as a topic of conversation on the pulse of the campus.
Students say they’re better having experienced the scandal and learned meaningful lessons from watching their alma mater figuratively burn to the ground.
“It falls back on the whole motto of Penn State where no act of yours brings shame and everything like that,” Oliver said. “And hopefully people don’t see Penn State as the small group of people who probably didn’t make the best decisions reflecting on the whole.”
Said Christine Marabella, an aerospace engineering graduate set to start work building airplanes in Ridley Park, outside Philadelphia, July 6: “Penn state is this amazing community, but we realized that things can go wrong.
“That was a good lesson to learn as a senior. I was happy that I was here as a student to experience it all and be part of the Penn State community. I can’t imagine being far away from here and not having the support of Penn State back me during that entire time.”
Here was Marabella, standing in line with a few friends to get her picture taken at the Lion Shrine, a cliche senior to-do.
Oliver, a fifth-year architectural engineering graduate who will start working for Taylor Structural Engineers just outside Pittsburgh on May 14, was standing with his family a couple dozen people behind Marabella, ready to pose for the proverbial photo.
“It’s been a great experience,” Oliver said. “Ever since I started I knew I wanted to do engineering. I came here and my program was really small. I got to know everyone, met some of the professors and really fell in love with the program, the school.”
On Facebook and other social media sites, graduating seniors posted nostalgic messages and even lines from the school's alma mater.
What a year.
What a journey.
"It has been four years and it doesn’t seem like that at all," Marabella said. "It seemed like it went so fast, but it's been amazing. At first I was really scared to be in college, but now I honestly don't want to leave Happy Valley and I look forward to coming back as often as possible."
Regardless of what happened in 2011-12.