Fast forward five seasons later. I’ve since relocated to Colorado for work, and love it there. But the allure of Penn State had me checking the home games schedule and looking at flight prices. The Rutgers game worked out, and although I knew it would be a short and sweet visit, Penn State Football had me wrapped around its finger. So, tickets were booked and travel arrangements made.
As I neared Penn State by car after a long day of flying, my energy spiked. The same shops on Atherton, the same restaurants downtown, the same electricity humming through the air that can only signify one thing: it’s game weekend in Happy Valley. My heart sang. I was home.
Game morning held that same nervous anticipation that it always had. The long yet refreshing walk from downtown to the stadium, the hordes of students yelling and chanting as they went from tailgate to tailgate. I had to remind myself that I am now an alum – walking the same pathways as I once did to classes kept throwing me for a loop as we all headed up to the stadium.
And then it was game time. Sitting down near the field was special, but what made me smile the most was looking over at a mostly-full student section on this cold and early Saturday. The spirit and tradition of going to a game no matter what is clearly going to live on for a long time. I had a poignant smile on my face as I watched the S-Zone wear its pink and black, the girls be popcorned up after a touchdown, the student section cheer louder than any other part of the stadium.
While I was definitely engaged in what was going on in the game – a 35-6 win is not something you can tune out! – I spent most of my time looking around Beaver Stadium, taking it all in. When I was a student, it felt like my time in State College would never end. The Saturday game days would be forever, my walks to class would be my permanent routes, my cozy apartment my home. Now, it all mushes together as I form a new life elsewhere. But what I am left with is a heart filled with pride.
Looking out on the student section, the full stands in Beaver Stadium, the packed tailgating fields, my heart was bursting with love and pride for this place that will always be a second home to me. My best memories, friends and experiences all reside in this valley nestled in Central Pennsylvania. Winning the game was merely a bonus – simply being in State College was enough to make my heart sing as an alum.
Students, relish in your time at Penn State. It is still crazy to me that four years are already done for me. While some people dream of weekend vacations to extravagant places, my favorite weekend getaway will always be Happy Valley.