And so it begins.
The nation’s eyes will be turned toward Bellefonte on Tuesday. A small town in rural Pennsylvania will be the focus of the national media, legal pundits, Penn State alumni, the inevitable haters and those who call and have called Happy Valley home.
Jury selection in the trial of Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State assistant football coach and founder of The Second Mile, begins Tuesday.
Our community has changed since November.
When the charges against Sandusky were first made public, the mere thought that a man – trusted, respected and in a position of authority – would take advantage of our most vulnerable children was almost too much to bear. It didn’t happen. It couldn’t have happened. Not here. Not in State College.
We were horrified. We were shocked. We wondered who knew. We wondered how many. We locked our doors and held our children a little tighter.
Our sense of “normal” was redefined.
We read a summary of charges in the grand jury presentment that spoke of grooming, manipulation and calculation. We saw respected members of our community accused of lying under oath. We saw the removal of a beloved coach and the dismissal of a sometimes controversial university president. We saw a student body react as young adults often do, angry and confused, incited by bad timing and by the lens of a TV camera.
We saw that same student body come together to raise their candles and proclaim that it won’t happen here again.
We heard the silence of 100,000 people as young men in football uniforms held hands in unity, and then, in prayer.
We’ve read the statistics. We wore blue ribbons and raised money in support of the children at the heart of these alleged crimes as well as in support of other victims of sexual violence.
We lost an icon.
We saw our streets lined with supporters, waiting for a silent funeral procession, showing respect and offering sympathies to what has felt like our own first family. We heard the brilliantly penned words of a son, in loving tribute to his father.
We saw the lights of the stadium brightening a dark winter night.
We’ve watched a young, energetic, Penn State graduate and diligent news reporter break a story that would not only change her career but would hold up the mirror for our university and for our community to ask ourselves “How could this happen?”
We’ve read news reports, online bloggers, and other commentary, some from those who hate and others from those who follow blindly. We’ve watched the theatrics of a defense attorney. We heard the anger of a spouse. We’ve seen the pictures of the smiling defendant.
While outsiders were pointing fingers, the Penn State family came together. We saw $10 million raised in the effort to fight pediatric cancer. Our tears at THON were a mixture of exhaustion, sadness and pride in knowing who we really are.
We tallied the costs, financial and otherwise, that have resulted from the accusations made against one man.
Starting Tuesday in Bellefonte, we will see what is good about America. Citizens in our country have the right to be heard in court, despite the court of public opinion.
Innocent until proven guilty.
Tuesday, the justice system will do its job.
Our court system will determine if the decisions made by the defendant in this case were a series of misunderstandings, misinterpretations or of crimes so horrendous that they are difficult to talk about.
Regardless of the outcome of this trial, if and how a system(s) and a community allowed crimes of this nature to happen will likely be investigated and studied for years to come. Regardless of the verdict, we have been changed.
With our attentions turned to the courtroom, we cannot lose sight of the most important concern in all of this. The boys at the heart of this horror are facing re-telling, reliving and confronting a past that, in many ways, will always shape their present. The young men who will testify in court have suffered great losses. The loss of trust. The loss of faith in oneself and in others. The loss of innocence.
It is for those children and the many others whose stories aren’t on national TV that we say “never again.”
As we wait the lawyers and jurors, witnesses and defendants, media, Facebook and Twitter, let’s remind ourselves that something good must come of this darkness. Let’s make a vow to right what is wrong, tell if there is a secret and to always protect our most vulnerable.
We owe it to our children.