Thoughts and Moving Forward at Penn State
258 days ago, I couldn't have possibly been prouder of my university and more enthusiastic about what the future had in store. The 2012 THON fundraising season had begun with the promise of another record-breaking total, and the university continued to receive national accolades for academic success. There was much hype surrounding Pat Chambers and the future of Penn State Basketball, the Penn State Women's Volleyball and Wrestling seasons were underway with the promise of possible national championships, our iconic and legendary football coach Joe Paterno had just eclipsed a once-in-a-lifetime milestone by winning his 409th (and unbeknownst to us, his final) game after an electrifying play as the clock hit 0:00. Penn State stood along with Boston College, Northwestern, and Stanford as the only four institutions from the six major BCS conferences without a major NCAA infraction, and the motto "Success With Honor" was ingrained into the heart and soul of every student lucky enough to have been sent an acceptance letter. It would be baseless to say that the pride that every student, alumni, and fan had for Penn State at that time transcended that of any other university in the world, but, with as much that we had to be proud of, it was unique. It was the very pride we had in all that was good that strengthened the bonds of our love for our school and our tight-knit sense of community. 257days ago, akin to a tiny ball of snow starting it's destructive roll from a high mountaintop, our will, our pride, our heroes, and most of all, the school that we loved so dearly perilously stood in the path of something far greater than we could have ever perceived.
I have been mum on the subject mostly because I felt that it wasn't my place to pass judgment, make rash comments, or knee-jerk reactions to the seemingly endless barrage of damning news and events that have occurred over the past 36 weeks... from the indictment of Sandusky himself, our athletic director, the ex-overseer of University Police, to the horrific stories of terrible acts that took place in the Lasch Building (which is less than two tenths of a mile from the apartment building that I live in on campus), to the firing and death of a man that we had all looked up to so much. All of this of course in addition to the stress of my own position of leadership, mounting student loans, and upper level academic courses. Duplicate my own situation forty-thousand times over and you’ve got an accurate picture of the University Park campus over the past eight months. As I have digested the most recent developments, and more specifically, the overreactions and overgeneralizations, I felt it was only appropriate to speak up on the behalf of so many people being cast in an unfair light due to circumstances that were never in their control to begin with.
I am not going to defend Joe Paterno. At the same time, I am not going to say that he was a rotten to the core as a human being either. I'm going to let time determine how I'm going to remember Joe. As for the present moment, I can speak for most of the Penn State community when I say that I'm extremely let down. It is not my fault, nor is it anyone else's that we all looked up to Joe Paterno for decades as a symbol of unequivocal generosity, leadership, and success. If everything in the Freeh Report is legitimate (which is in serious question at the moment), then we have been all duped, and duped well. As much as the rest of the country is riled up and furious about this, we are equally so. It’s a life lesson we’re all learning together that, as the old saying goes, we should “never judge a book by its cover.” Although we may have been let down, we can’t forget what “The Paterno Way” stood for when it was still pristine in the eyes of the world – excellence in the classroom, honorable ethics, and a simplistic, selfless, and all-business approach to being successful at the task at hand. We don’t need Joe Paterno to exemplify those ideals – we are perfectly capable of exemplifying them ourselves. I hope those principles continue to live on as fundamental Penn State ideals.
There is one thing I am certain about - one unmistakable fact of this entire scandal that most people outside of Centre Country, Pennsylvania come up way short on. I personally did not cover up, condone, approve, and allow Jerry Sandusky's actions to happen. Neither did any other student at the university, neither did any professor, and neither did any fan of Penn State. It's unfortunate enough that the lives of at least ten children were tarnished in an unfathomable way. What I can’t understand is why the media and the rest of the world are trying to pull the students of the university under the bus is beyond me. It's irrational. The scandal has not only brought out the worst in our university, but it seems to have brought out the worst in humanity. I've seen the comments on Yahoo!, CNN, Fox News, you name it... they range from "Hold a raffle and the winner gets to blow JoePa up with some C4. Then give the money to the victims", to "Penn State is an institution of higher education as much as scientology a religion", to "Penn State is a cult, and JoePa is their god". They get even more senseless and uneducated as they go. It amazes me how outspoken and brash people are when behind the comfortable shield of their computer screen, and it's equally as amazing that people will believe everything as it is portrayed - perhaps the more prevalent theme since November 4, 2011. Go ahead, poll the country - I'm willing to bet that a significant amount of people honestly believe that Joe Paterno abused children. Did the man make mistakes? Absolutely. But did he ever intentionally and personally abuse a child? Absolutely not. It’s outrageous, and signifies a massive failure in journalism, and in society. It would take an equal time to post an insensitive and incompetent comment on a news article as it would to go online and donate to a charity that supports abused children. It will be a much better world if someday people could channel their anger into a means of something positive.
So, I say to those who believe that Penn State “should burn to the ground”, as one person so politely put it - what do you have to say to the student-run organizations who work year-round for charities, foundations, and organizations that benefit children? There’s THON for starters, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy that raised $10.5 million last year alone to fight pediatric cancer. That same Penn State football team that people want to unrightfully punish with the NCAA’s “death penalty” - they raised over $110,000 for Uplifting Athletes just last weekend. What do you have to say to all of the good-natured and kind-hearted young adults who chose Penn State University for an opportunity to get world-class education, become leaders, and make a difference in the world? What do you have to say to those who still live by “Success With Honor”? Does the rest of the country honestly expect us to shrug our shoulders, pack our suitcases, fill out our applications to transfer elsewhere, accept defeat due to our defunct leaders, and then close up shop? Where do we go from here?
A good friend of mine works in Old Main. I have seen and heard first-hand through her the accounts of the toll and great strain this episode has had on many people, particularly the people who have been left to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess that others have made. They’re the ones who have to make all of the decisions from here forward, for better or for worse. While we’re all super critical of every decision and statement that they make, can anyone really envy the situation they’re in? After the fallout from the Freeh report, I had the chance to speak with my friend in-person about it. She said one simple thing, the same thing she had said to some trustees, other employees, and any others concerned with the future of Penn State. She said: “Our students will be the ones to bring us out of this.” It brings to mind a recent series of TV and print advertisements for the university with the seemingly ever-present logo with “It’s Your Time” encased in a circle. Well, it really is our time now. While we don’t have the individual power to make the big decisions, or undo what has been done, we do have the power to be heard and do great things. We have the chance to go out into the world and dedicate our lives to making a good name for our university. We have bright students in every field, and the more of us that step up to the plate and swing for the fences, the more that the world is going to see the real Penn State. We now have the responsibility to become proponents for good, to be responsible future leaders and citizens, to resist corruption and the lure of personal gain at the expense of others. Come what may – whether sanctions or penalties are brought upon us, we have the responsibility to excel, now more than ever, because the spotlight is brightly shining on us - the first proponents of this new era in our school’s rich history. There is no margin for error.
Regardless, I still believe in all of the good that exists at Penn State.
I’ll look no further than to consult our Alma Mater.
I still believe in the glory of Dear Old State. I still believe our founders were strong and great. I’ll still raise the song and sing my love, loyalty, and hopes, bright and free. No act of mine will ever bring shame, and I will continue to swell thy fame.
By: Ian Kenney Penn State Music Education (B.M.E) '13; Drum Major, Penn State Blue Band (2010-2012)
The opinions expressed are my own and are not to be affiliated with Penn State Blue Band, the Drum Major position, staff, or the student membership of the organization.