College. The best four years of your life. Four years ago, I thought that was just saying was, well, just a saying. Four years later, I can tell you that saying is true.
It is hard to believe that four years have passed by. I can still remember moving into my dorm freshman year and taking my picture with the Nittany Lion Shrine. Over the last four years, I have immersed myself within the Penn State community and have learned what it means to be Penn State proud. I saw my football team win a Big Ten Championship, witnessed Joe Paterno’s 400th and 409th wins, and gone on road trips to see Penn State win in the Big House and the Horseshoe, two of the most storied college football stadiums in the country. I went to every bowl game including the Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of Them All, and saw Penn State pull out a win against a future national champion LSU team. I stormed the court when Penn State upset Illinois and saw Talor Battle hit miraculous shot after miraculous shot to lead Penn State to the postseason, twice. I was a part of the eighteen bus contingent that traveled from Happy Valley to the Big Apple (twice) to cheer for Penn State in its successful quest to cut down the nets in The Garden after winning the first NIT in school history.
Then, there’s THON. How can I possibly describe THON when words do not do it justice? The textbook definition is that THON is the largest student run philanthropy in the world, a yearlong effort which culminates in a 46 hour no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon which raises money for the Four Diamonds Fund and the fight against pediatric cancer. THON is so much more, though. For many kids, THON is “better than Christmas”. THON is a rainbow of colors. THON is unity. THON is hope. I’ve been involved with the Finance committee all four years – my first three as a Committee Member and this year, the first year our total hit ten figures, I was a Captain. I saw us raise $7,490,133.87, $7,838,054.36, $9,563,016.09, and $10,686,924.83. For me THON is Penn State at its best – 15,000 student volunteers and the whole Pennsylvania community rallying behind one cause. I will always remember the people I met through THON and all the great memories I have of Penn State because of THON.
I also had the opportunity to spend a full semester studying abroad in Rome. Those four months were, hands down, the best four months of my life. I lived in the city that was the birthplace if the Western World and Western culture. I walked down the same paths that Julius Caesar and other great minds of the world traveled. I chanted “Forza Roma” at a soccer game where I learned just how crazy Italians can be. I lit a candle in the Duomo, rubbed the Boar’s snout and crossed the famous Ponte Vecchio in Florence. I went to Barcelona (by myself) and walked the entire La Rambla and learned about Catalonian pride. I attended a Carnivale parade in Nice, played the slots in the world famous Monte Carlo Casino (and walked out of it in the black) and saw where the world famous Cannes Film Festival takes place. I climbed up to the top of a mideviel village called Enz. I had the best spring break of my life – 5 cities in 12 days. I saw the astronomical clock, Prague Castle and learned about the Velvet Revolution in the “City of 100 Spires”. I walked the streets of the city that once divided and then reunited Europe, crossed over the remnants of the Berlin Wall, and saw Checkpoint Charlie. I rode a boat through the canals and experienced the liberal and welcoming people of Amsterdam. I sipped some wine and ate a French baguette as I watched the Eiffel Tower light up, saw Notre Dame and went to the Louvre in Paris. I took the Chunnel from Paris to London where I stayed in the courthouse that inspired Oliver Twist, met family that I had never met before and saw Big Ben. I sailed along the Grand Canal of Venice, crossed the Rialto Bridge, saw a glass blowing exhibit in Murano and strolled through the lesser known fishing village of Burano. I walked in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius through the eerie city of Pompeii. I stayed in a five star hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and walked along the streets of Sorrento, walked down the hills of Positano, sipped limoncello in Amalfi, and took in the breathtaking views of the Amalfi Coast from a villa in Ravello. I learned that the pizza in Naples was not overrated at all. I explored a Roman Emperor's castle, went white water rafting and drank from a waterfall in Croatia. I saw the square where the Palio takes place in Siena, toured a wine farm in Tuscany, had the world’s best gelato in San Gimignano and took the cliché picture with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I made great friends that I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life.
My senior year at Penn State was a year to remember. Penn State, an institution considered to be a gold standard for integrity, was involved in a scandal that shook every Penn Stater to their core. The Penn State community grew together like never before and the students led the way. While our administration remained silent, the student body organized a candlelight vigil for the victims. We protested for the termination of Graham Spanier and most of us held peaceful protests after our beloved coach, Joe Paterno, was fired. I stood on the steps of Old Main with my fellow students as our student body president delivered a speech about the values of a true Penn Stater. We somberly sung the Alma Mater and lent each other a shoulder to cry on. I was one of 110,000 people who witnessed a somber pregame prayer when Penn State played Nebraska the weekend after all the events unfolded. Unfortunately, I witnessed firsthand the reaction of the State College community to the death of Joe Paterno. I held vigil at the Joe Paterno statue, went to the wake of our beloved coach, attended a candlelight vigil for Joe, saw the casket pass by, and went to Joe’s Memorial Service. I was one of 10,000 other people who jumped to their feet when Phil Knight delivered his famous quote.
College definitely is the best four years of your life. It is true. I cannot believe it is over. Thank you to my fellow Penn State students. Some of us lived in the same building, took classes together, had the same minor, participated in THON together, or hung out together. Without you my four years would not have been the same. Most of all, I need to thank my parents and family for their endless support over the last four years. I now understand what it means to be a proud Penn State Alumnus.