I feel as if I'm recovering from a hangover. I'm waking up wondering, "What just happened? Is my memory serving me correctly?" But there was no binge drinking involved. Rather, I'm a Penn State graduate who, like others in the school's community, is left wondering whether this hell we've experienced is real life.
Thanks to the Freeh Report -- and despite claims that it isn't conclusive -- we are face-to-face with the realization that Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and Joe Paterno were all responsible for covering Jerry Sandusky's child molestation. For the first time since this fiasco began, I'm at a complete loss for words -- and I'm a writer.
For the general public: Please know that Penn Staters are not brainwashed lunatics. Rather, understand that the world we knew and loved has been abruptly turned upside down. The only way I can describe our feelings is by comparing it to a harsh break-up. Imagine dating someone you loved endlessly. The break-up is the most painful agony you could possibly imagine, but then you found out your ex was cheating on you the entire time. That's how many of us felt after learning of Paterno's liability -- we had loved him, but he was hiding something for all those years.
Between rumors running awry and fingers being pointed, it's no surprise we were distraught and irrational. But now we have recognized their culpability. Penn Staters started with denial, and later tumbled into confusion, despair, and sorrow. We are still in that downward spiral, but we have a long way to go before we can stand up, brush ourselves off, and walk forward. We're not blind -- we know they all did something horribly wrong. But it is with your support that we can move forward, and in moving forward, we can do our best to make this world right and stop abuse.
There's much discussion about giving Penn State football the death penalty. I can't say I'm in favor of either side, but there's one particular benefit: Those 99.99 percent of us students who weren't in the football program can show the world that we're not just a football school. Public opinion would say otherwise, and I don't blame them, especially since such leaders as Paterno and Spanier allegedly thought the same. The only ones who know we're not a football school? Those of us who went there. But sadly, Penn State is only one colossal example of the emphasis many humans and institutions place on athletics, and Lord knows other situations -- though less broadcasted -- may be happening at other schools as we speak.
Just like other alumni, I chose Penn State because of the institution as a whole. Yes, the "Ra-Ra" football games were part of that, as I went to an all-girl's high school that didn't offer that option. But what made me put down that admission deposit was the selection of majors, academic reputation, student life, and the overall feeling I felt on the campus. There's an electricity in the air when you're in Happy Valley, and it's always buzzing -- even when it's not football season.
Those with understanding and compassion have given hope to students and alumni. An Ohio State fan comes to mind, one of many who reminded us that our institution is characterized by more than just a sport and some men who made these treacherous decisions. We are not Jerry Sandusky, so please, don't call us pedophiles or tell us to burn our diplomas. We are incredibly mournful for the victims, and distressed that our pride and joy is now forever associated with their torment.
We are longing to go back to normalcy, so I beg you: Help us get there. I dream of a day where I can once again raise my head high when someone asks where I went to college. To us, Penn State is more than just a school -- it's something engraved in our DNA. If you meet a Penn Stater, don't look down on them with shame. As I've heard some students and alumni say, it wasn't Paterno that received our degrees; it wasn't Spanier out raising money for THON; it wasn't any of these leaders taking classes, getting involved on campus, or doing any of the nuts and bolts of what truly makes an institution exceptional. It was us -- the students -- and so it's up to us to take our leaders' failures and gain a renewed sense of strength to carry out "Success with Honor" like never before.
Follow Catherine Seraphin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CJSeraphin