There's an aspect of my life I haven't really discussed on this blog. It's not because it wasn't important or meaningful. It's just that it was a long time ago.
But no amount of time, space or distance can change the fact that I was, am, and will always be Penn State.
I came to Penn State at the age of 17, back in 1996. I was young, naive, and convinced I was going to marry my high school boyfriend. I thought I was going to go into public relations. I had no desire to travel abroad, let alone study abroad. I looked forward to returning to Cincinnati during the summers so I could hang out with my high school friends. I had no interest in football or tailgating outside in frigid temperatures. I was insecure, unsure, and anxious, and looked at college like a means to an end - a rite of passage I had to endure.
It's crazy to think about.
I left Penn State sans high school boyfriend. I had a double major in Journalism and Political Science, and was awaiting my return to London, not to travel, but to live. I left with six best friends, whom I still keep in touch with (and all of whom I'll be seeing in Philadelphia next week). I gained a healthy respect for football, and a love for tailgating in the cold. I loved seeing my family and missed my high school friends, but I no longer yearned for summers at home. I was confident, I was ambitious, I was eager, I was ready to conquer the world.
And I was proud. Proud to be a Nittany Lion. Proud to be a Penn Stater.
It has been eleven years since I graduated from Penn State, and I have only been back to State College twice (a travesty). I have attended and received degrees from two other universities, both of which are ranked "better" than my original alma mater. I have married a non-Penn Stater and had kids and done nothing with my Journalism degree. But this pride... it doesn't go away.
I am not alone. I have found that whenever I meet a fellow Penn Stater, no matter their age, profession, race, gender, and whatever other societal difference I haven't thought of, there is an instant bond. A look is exchanged that says, "I know. I know."
Of course, lots of people have pride in their school, and I'm not discounting that. But State College has a magic about it. And it's not just the football or the mountains or the Creamery or the iced teas at the Cafe. It's unspoken. It's inherent. And it stays with you.
So when I turned on the ABC national news last night and saw Penn State in the headlines for something other than how awesome it is, and even worse, for a sexual abuse scandal involving children, I literally felt sick.
You probably know the facts already. An assistant football coach sexually abusing young children. Young children he met through a charitable organization he started. A cover-up involving high up university officials. The possibility that Joe Paterno, the legend, knew of the abuse, and did nothing.
Had this scandal broken when I was at Penn State, I no doubt would have been upset about it. Sickened by it. Ashamed by it.
But I am different than I was back then. I am a mother. And as a mother, not only am I upset, sickened, and ashamed, but it hits me at the core. Because I imagine my own children. And what if....
I can't imagine. I just can't.
How dare these men commit these crimes. How dare they cover it up. And how dare they bring shame to a university that is so much more than football. So much more than this scandal. And so much more than the sick f*#! that started this whole thing in the first place.
When I left Penn State back in 2000, I wrote an article for the Daily Collegian, the Penn State newspaper, about my experience there. I looked it up this morning and reread it for the first time in years. I looked a lot younger back then (don't laugh). I wrote a bit differently. I was not yet a wife, a mother, or a lawyer. I had no idea where London or law school or my career would take me. I certainly could have never predicted that eleven years later, I'd be a stay at home mom in suburban DC with a minivan and a defunct law degree, with two amazing kids and a husband who make it all worth it. Things have certainly changed. A lot.
But my sentiment from the article has not changed. Not one bit.
Penn State will weather the storm. Because the pride, the magic, the spirit that is Penn State is still there. In the students. In the alumni. And in me.
We are still Penn State.