I am a Penn State student. I rarely venture onto a physical Penn State campus, but I am a Penn State student nonetheless.
I am fortunate, though. Unlike many of my World Campus peers, I know what it is like to hear the tower chimes of Old Main on a brisk winter day as the wind whips the last few leaves around my feet. I know what it is like to stand in front of the board at Berkey Creamery trying to decide which flavor I’m feeling that day.
And, I know what it is like to stand among a crowd of over 100,000 screaming fans in Beaver Stadium—with tears streaming down my face and no voice—to cheer on my football team as they struggle in the fourth quarter.
I wish that every World Campus student could have their own memorable experiences on campus. Still, even if they never set foot in the state of Pennsylvania, I will never doubt their feelings of belonging. We are all members of the Penn State family. We all bleed blue and white.
These last few days, fellow World Campus students and I have watched our social network feeds and the media outlets available to us as a way to come together as we mourn the loss of the great Joe Paterno. It has been a tough few months in Happy Valley and we feel it too. We feel it no matter where we are.
I swore that I was not going to write about any of this, that everything that could or should be said about the criticisms of what Joe Paterno should or could have done – and way too much that shouldn’t – has been said many times over. I stopped trying to make sense out of any of this situation a long time ago. I labeled it impossible and irreconcilable, which I rarely do.
Apparently, I hit a point of no return, because here I am typing away amid several balled-up tissues. People who don’t understand what it is like to be part of the global Penn State community cannot fathom why I would feel the loss of Joe Paterno so deeply or choose this time – a time when some have questioned the morality of his actions – to stand behind a man that I never knew personally. They look at me as if I have lost all ability to reason.
I wish I could articulate it. I cannot. The truth of the matter is that, in the absence of reconciliation, all we can do is cope.
With Joe Paterno’s passing, my heartbreak and questions returned. Why did everything—and I mean that to be ambiguous—have to happen this way? As has already been said, there is so much to mourn. I looked for something positive to take away from all of this — any small glimmer of light — and I found nothing.
Then it hit me, not a small glimmer of light, but that hazy glow that’s been over Beaver Stadium the past few nights. Even facing what would become insurmountable challenges at the end of his life, Joe Paterno stayed positive and he put others before him.
In his life and in his death, Joe Paterno led the way for us. He supported — in every possible way — that which he believed in, and the opportunities that we have are testament to that. When asked what he hoped would be written about him after he was gone, Joe said, “I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.”
Well, it’s up to us to prove that he was right. That is our challenge; to show the world that Joe Paterno did make Penn State a better place. We are the proof of that.
World Campus students, whatever you are doing, work hard and do it to the best of your ability. Wherever you are, make your corner of the globe a better place.