Guest column / Penn State alum ponders the 'We' in iconic cheer
Published 2:56 pm, Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I don't consider myself a die-hard Penn Stater. I'm not a native Pennsylvanian, and I left the state weeks after receiving my diploma, off to New York and, for the past 25 years and three children, to Connecticut. The recent indictment of the football team's one-time defensive coordinator on multiple counts of sexually abusing young boys has devastated the university that I, and so many others, love. We are forced to accept the fact that these young boys (we may never know how many) were abused by one of our own, on our campus and that a cover-up allowed it to continue for years.
Suddenly, I now see how important Penn State is to me. Penn State is the reason my family moved to Pennsylvania.
It was 1969 and my father accepted a senior position at Penn State's new College of Medicine in Hershey. That autumn, my two brothers and I would get our first exposure to games at Beaver Stadium, watching Charlie Pittman, Mike Reid and Jack Ham lead the Nittany Lions to their second consecutive undefeated season. We were hooked.
A Penn State football tradition is that half the stadium will roar "We are ...," and the other half responds, "Penn State." It is a chant of pride and loyalty quickly learned and repeated over and over.
Dad would become the associate provost of the medical center, be honored as an Evan Pugh professor, and retire from the university 21 years later. My brothers also graduated from PSU, and we would all have ongoing arguments with dad about when Paterno should retire, with dad voicing his belief that JoPa was staying on too long. Given that dad passed away over 10 years ago, he now gets the ultimate "I told you so" from his grave. Well played, dad.
A Penn State football tradition is that half the stadium shouts "We are ...," and the other half responds, "Penn State."
It's probably not an exaggeration to admit that everything I have accomplished can be traced back to my family (you too, mom) and to Penn State. Do the right thing. Success with honor. For more than 40 years, Joe Paterno has been a constant presence in our lives. But please don't confuse our display of affection for Paterno as blind loyalty or insensitivity to the real victims of this horrific crime. We are shocked and we are mad. We are shocked by the alleged acts of a monster and mad at the inactions and cowardliness of our leaders. We want the truth, all of it, as painful and damning as it might be. It's what we learned from dad, and from Joe.
So, while accusations fly, theories are spun, and lawyers are briefed, what should we (as in "We are ... Penn State.") do next to move forward in our new, uncertain PSU world? I suggest we rethink the "We" in our proud cheer, which both expresses our pride as well as a certain anonymity of the collective Penn State monolithic community under which these inexplicable acts happened. Perhaps we should embrace a new paradigm, such as "I am ... Penn State." After all, we arrive on campus, fresh from high school, as individuals. Four years later, or thereabouts, we accept our diplomas, as individuals. It's now time for each of us to step up, take responsibility for our own actions, hold others accountable for theirs and not defer to the collective "We" or the worship of others. If Penn State is ever going to reclaim its position as the great university we know it to be, then I am ... Penn State. And so are you.
Richard Rapp lives in Weston.