When I decided to go to Penn State in the fall of 2006, it wasn't because of Joe Paterno or his football team or the history of the program. It was because it was a top-notch university.
Sure, Paterno helped build the reputation of the university with his victories, but it was and still is well established that Penn State is a great place for thousands of kids to enroll, learn and become responsible, educated adults who could give back to their communities.
That's what makes the events of the past eight months so hard to grapple with.
The motto around the athletic program was "Success With Honor," and it became a mantra for the university community. Students didn't want to just be accomplished individuals; we wanted to be more than that. We gave to charity, we supported causes that needed attention and we went the extra mile to make Happy Valley and our communities back home better places.
Now, the leaders of the university who preached all of this to us have been exposed for their extreme negligence and callous handling of what was one of the greatest tragedies anyone can imagine.
Since then, the culture of Penn State and the role football played in it has come under fire, and rightfully so. As evidenced by today's Freeh Report, the image of the football program and the university played an integral role in the decision-making process of those in leadership roles.
This, combined with the senseless rioting in the aftermath of Paterno's firing, has led to characterizations of Penn Staters as blind loyalists to a coach and a program that deserve criticism and scorn.
While that may be true for a small subset of the population, the truth of the matter is that most students and alumni can and have separated the football program from their time at Penn State and what being a Penn Stater means to them.
I should know—I'm one of them.
During my four years in Happy Valley, I met great people, formed friendships I'll have for life, learned from some of the best professors in the country and have a ton of great memories that will stay with me my entire life. Almost none of them have to do with the football program.
Neither I nor my fellow alumni identify ourselves with football. We identify ourselves with a university that gives you a top-notch education and produces productive members of society.
How the university's leaders could have been so misguided as to violate those tenets we identify with is something no one has ever been able to wrap their heads around. The fact that so many innocent people were harmed because of it is something Penn Staters and society in general are still struggling to grapple with.
Despite all that has happened, it will not change the love I have for the university that helped me become the person I am and meet people who have changed my life exponentially for the better. I didn't go to "Paterno State University," as so many media members have bandied about. I went to Penn State University.
I went there to learn and grow, and Happy Valley allowed me to do that. Football was a part of my life as a student, but it never consumed me. It wasn't my reason for being there, and it will never be the first thing I think about when I think about my alma mater.
Today is a dark day for Penn State, students and alumni, but it will not take away the pride in my degree, nor should any alum feel that way. You have every right to be upset, angry and embarrassed of the so-called leaders who failed the university.
We should all once again grieve for the victims, who were clearly abandoned by men who should have done better instead of protecting their own reputation.
However, it will not change how I view the university as it stands today. Penn State still has the same high-level professors it had when I was there, and its student body still raises millions of dollars for charitable organizations and wants to live up to the alma mater.
The men who failed to do the right thing may have represented the university, but they do not define it. They didn't when I was there, and they should not define it for any current student or alumni.
We are Penn State. We always strove to get better and improve our communities. Now it's time to live up to that, and it starts by being proud of our university and working to ensure that the environment around Penn State is an open one—where responsible, moral leaders do the right thing for society at large, not just for the bottom line.
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