I recently submitted this as my article in the latest edition of the newsletter of my local alumni chapter in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill). At the behest of my dear friend SarcasmJam, I'm posting it here as well.
When we stood at childhood's gate
I have always felt like one of the lucky ones. My grandfather spent 8 years as president of the PA Fruit Growers Association, and as a consequence of the prominence from that role, he was elected to the PSU Board of Trustees for a time. My father graduated from Penn State in 1967, to the pride of his parents and the whole community. I had Penn State all around me, from the scale replica of the Nittany Lion Shrine which sat on the bookshelf next to Pap's La-Z-Boy, to his white Cadillac Coupe de Ville with Penn State blue vinyl roof, to the Alpha Gamma Rho (Gamma Chapter) fraternity paddles that my parents used as "behavioral adjustment" tools. We learned early that the Nittany Lion was the fiercest cat in the state, and that the inferior Pitt Panther was to be pitied. Penn State was a mythical place for me, and when it came to going to college, I never even applied to any other school. It was Penn State or nothing.
Thou didst mold us, dear old State
When I went to campus, it was if I was stepping onto hallowed ground. I still get that feeling, even now. It was there that I sorted out what it meant to be an adult, and answered those questions that we all must confront when we're crossing that threshold out of adolescence. I learned as much from just being there as I did from any individual class. I attended the football games for the first few years, before I had a job, and sitting in the student section, we sang along with the Alma Mater, using that familiar refrain: We don't know, the G** d***ed words. Frankly, I felt a bit let down by this, but not until the humor of it wore off sometime in my sophmore year.
Sing our love and loyalty
It was disappointing because I felt a sense of betrayal, however minor. The thing at the root of that feeling, however, was one that had been instilled in me by my grandparents and parents, and later by those leaders around me whose examples I deemed worthy of emulation: Loyalty. To me, loyalty means keeping promises, staying true. Politics has the concept of the 'loyal opposition', the party out of power which remains true to the government, without fomenting revolution, because the country is more important than ideology. Loyalty is the bedrock of family, of community, of any true friendship. It means helping to maintain the fundamental core of what makes anyone or anything, even as time passes, and the new is merged with the old. And it means ignoring the bashers and the bandwagon, looking past the superficial, and riding out the bad times while working to bring back the good times. Loyalty means honesty, and brutal honest when necessary.
Loyalty also goes two ways. You can't be loyal to someone who doesn't return that loyalty. Loyalty given is loyalty earned.
May no act of ours bring shame
As Penn Staters, be we alumni or fan, we stand at crossroads. On the one hand, it seems that we've misplaced our loyalty. We gave it to individuals, depending on them to responsibly care for a University that we hold dear. The problem is that it appears some of them defended that University the wrong way, perhaps caring more for image than substance. In the age of the 24 hour news cycle and the Internet, it's not incomprehensible how that image is important, but it cannot come before doing the right thing, as I think we're being reminded in undeniable terms.
All with thee, all with thee
Then again, my loyalty has never been to any individual. It has always been to Penn State. My loyalty isn't for the Board of Trustees, each of whom now needs to decide whether loyalty means stepping down or staying on. It isn't for University administrators, who need to examine their actions, and decide whether their loyalty is to the Penn State brand, or to the people and communities that the University serves. And my loyalty is not for any athletics program or even a beloved coach, because as important as those are to Penn State, they're not bigger than the University, or any one person who loves it.
Shapeless in the hands of fate
I've realized that whenever I wear my Penn State gear in public, there will be eyes on me, and raised eyebrows. I know that I cannot affect what people think to themselves, or how their perceptions of Penn State have been already changed. I get sad when I think about how some people will react when they see my father walking with his grandsons and wearing a Penn State jacket. I've heard some people saying that their degree is now devalued.
For the future that we wait.
As for myself, I know that I earned my degree. I put my work, my heart, and my dreams into every square inch of that piece of paper. I will not stop wearing my Penn State jacket in public. I will face the inevitable questions with reason and honesty. I will not defend the indefensible, and I will tell them that we will make sure that never again does loyalty come without responsibility. And when they ask me why I remain loyal, I will tell them that it's because Penn State was there for me when I needed guidance, leadership, and an example worth living up to. This, right now, is the time when I repay that gift by doing the same for Penn State.
Loyalty demands no less.
Raise the song, raise the song.
Ben Pitzer, vice-president Triangle Chapter