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Graduation Day in Central PA

Part I: “The road is long. With many a winding turn.”

– From The Hollies – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (1969)

Graduation day was held at Penn State on May 7 for our oldest son Jonathon (aka Jon, JT, Jon-Ba, or as I often call him “Junior” – usually spoken in my best Sean Connery accent from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).  He is child No. 2 to earn his degree from our alma mater (big sister Brianna graduated in 2015) and “Junior” will soon be our second “off the payroll.”

After paying for college for two offspring for the past 6 years (even with the tuition discount as a “retired” PSU employee), we are appreciative of the pay raise we just received. Alas, we have our “bonus Jonas,” Ryan (a freshman at State High), left at home to still put through school, so we aren’t free and clear just yet.

On a serious note, we are very proud of our son Jon! He is such a good soul.  

He is officially a graduate of the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology with an emphasis in “Security Risk Analysis.” It’s a really good time to be graduating with a degree that includes a background in cybersecurity. As he likes to say, “All those countless hours of video games has really paid off, eh dad?” Smart aleck.

Graduation took place in the relative quaintness of Eisenhower Auditorium. Quaint, if you consider that my wife Heidi and I graduated with more than 8,000 of our closest friends in a mass ceremony in Beaver Stadium in the early 1980’s. The IST commencement speaker was former Pennsylvania Governor and Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge. His speech was spot-on about the tremendous opportunities available to today’s graduates. He also talked about the equally chilling prospects of an ever-changing world and how they must be vigilant at keeping their guard up against threats that didn’t exist even 10 years ago.

After the ceremony we, of course, took the obligatory graduation photos. But there was one that was pretty darn special. It was the picture of three generations of Penn State grads with Jon, his mom and I (Class of ‘83), and his Grandpa “Smitty” (Class of ’48), who is about to turn 96.  That is a keeper.

Part II: “The road is long. With many a winding turn.”

My “Graduation Day in Central PA”, actually started earlier in the day at Lock Haven University’s graduation ceremony. I was there in my new role as the Chief Development Officer and Executive Director of the Lock Haven University Foundation.  

Wait a minute, Joseph, I thought you were doing motivational speeches, consulting, and writing a book! What happened to those plans?

Well, as the saying goes, “sometimes opportunity knocks when and where you least expect it.”  

Back in January, LHU’s Chief Development Officer and former Penn State colleague Troy Miller asked me if I would do a training session for the LHU Alumni Board. I worked closely with Troy on the “Ice Campaign” at PSU, raising additional funds for Pegula Ice Arena, so I was eager to assist my friend.

Fast forward a few months and Troy gets his shot at a job with Auburn University and suddenly an opportunity to get back into higher education, in Central Pennsylvania, opens up for me. In my first meeting with University President, Dr. Michael Fiorentino (a Boston University graduate), we spent the first 15 minutes talking about Italy and the Boston Bruins, specifically a shared respect for “Number 4, Bobby Orr,” the greatest defenseman to ever play the game of hockey. I was very impressed with Dr. Fiorentino’s leadership and vision for the future of the institution.  

One of the first people I told about the new job was my good friend and Penn State hockey superfan Matt Seybert. He is an LHU alum who works at Penn State and he told me I was going to love it at “The Haven.”

So, the book and motivational speaking will have to wait awhile as my new teammates and I work hard on behalf of the students at “The Haven.” In my short time in the position, I am already amazed at the number of people I know that are working at LHU, went to LHU, and those who have degrees from both PSU and LHU!

My first LHU commencement event actually took place on that Friday night when Dr. Thomas “Doc’ Sweitzer (a Lock Haven native who has both LHU and PSU degrees) was the commencement speaker for the graduate program ceremonies. He was funny, sincere, and also spot-on with his comments about the future.

“This is where the American dream is launched,” Doc said to the graduates, “remember where you came from.” He told them, “We’re at our best, as people, when we reach back and help others get to their dreams.”

He also gave a specific piece of advice to the parents and grandparents in the crowd. “Gone are the days of working for one company for 35-40 years.  Today’s grads will likely hold 9 different positions in their lifetimes, with 7 of those positions in jobs and with companies that have yet to be created. Let these kids dream and pursue a career in something they are passionate about.”

Well, that really resonated with me since I am in the middle of prodding “Junior” about getting a job. He has had more than his share of opportunities, but much to my chagrin, has held out for ‘the” job. He has his sights set high and is shooting for the proverbial big leagues in his field. The pragmatic side of his parents wants him to get a job and be off the payroll. But he is young and passionate about what he wants to do and he is closing in on one of those dream gigs. The good news…he has a ‘Plan B!’  So chill out Pops.

I have little doubt that Jonathon (his mother still prefers his full name) will not only find a great job, but will have fun in whatever he pursues.  I am certainly biased as his father of course, and I am going to miss him when he leaves our nest.

Speaking of nests, I am excited to be a Bald Eagle and a member of “The Haven Nation” where the athletic motto is “Protect The Nest!”

I will always be a Nittany Lion first and it was Dr. Fiorentino who set my mind at ease when he said, “be proud of your alma mater and never forget where you came from.”  I won’t forget and I look forward to continuing to support PSU hockey and the other athletic teams, help with the Lion Ambassadors and assist at the Smeal College of Business whenever I am asked.

Could it be the best of both worlds? Only time will tell, but I am excited at the possibilities and I am looking forward to working with an energetic and enthusiastic staff that is passionate about helping to make a difference in young people’s lives. 

It won’t all be work either. Whether it’s kayaking on the Susquehanna, climbing Mount Nittany, horseback riding in Howard, summer concerts at Tussey Mountain or on the river in Lock Haven, golf at Clinton Country Club, or back in Happy Valley, it is great to be back in Central PA!

So for our graduate Jon, it’s “the sky’s the limit.” For me, it’s ‘For The Haven,’ ‘For the Glory,’ but most importantly, it’s ‘For the Students.’

Happy Graduation Day in Central PA!