It's true. State College, Pa., known as "Happy Valley" and home to more than 45,000 students of the Pennsylvania State University and additional surrounding Centre County residents, is actually a very happy place.
As a student of the University, I can attest -- the University Park campus is joyful.
Last week the NCAA lifted the Penn State football program sanctions from two years ago following the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. Penn State will be allowed to participate in a post-season bowl game this year, if qualified, and all scholarships will be restored by next year. According to the New York Times the decision was made in recognition of the improvements the program has made since the scandal in November 2011.
This was an exciting moment for the community, the students and current and future Penn State athletes. Thousands of students rallied overnight on Old Main lawn and Beaver Avenue following the unexpected announcement, and rallies continued Saturday night after the 13-10 win over Rutgers University. Penn State now sits at the head of the Big Ten championship race, and campus spirits are high.
Penn State students have been called "wrong" for celebrating the sanction lifts. Some say we should be ashamed. Strong opinions surround almost every piece of Penn State news that surfaces, but let me be clear -- my happiness at this school has very little to do with football.
Yes, I love football, and game day at Penn State is undoubtedly an unrivaled piece of Nittany Lion culture, but there are many other reasons that the students, faculty and community members of Happy Valley have always been -- and still are -- supremely happy.
-- And I'm not the only one who believes this.
This month Movoto Real Estate named State College the happiest small city in America. Of the 49 other happy towns on the list, Happy Valley ranked number one as the "smiliest small spot" in the nation.
The list was developed based on factors including walkability, home ownership, marriage status, personal safety, stress levels, income and education. State College is ranked as one of the least stressful places in the United States with low commute distances, low levels of unemployment and a low cost of living.
Moreover, according to a Business Insider study based on The Princeton Review's 2015 college rankings, Penn State ranks number 7 of the 20 best college campuses in the United States.
Happy Valley harbors a premiere student campus, and as fall settles in, Penn State students are celebrating much more than just football. Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) committee captains have been chosen, and committee membership interviews will be held this week to start off another year raising money and awareness for the Four Diamonds fund to fight pediatric cancer. To be a part of the largest student-run philanthropy in the world is a pretty happy feeling.
On Sunday, more than 10,000 runners participated in the Color Run 5k through Penn State's campus, while volunteers sprayed them with paint. How fitting that the global event prides itself on being "The #Happiest 5k on the Planet" promoting healthiness and happiness.
And what is happiness without music? Thanks to the Student Programming Association (SPA) at Penn State, Happy Valley attracts top performers for a number of free concerts each semester -- already boasting performances by country duo Thompson Square in August and rapper Hoodie Allen this past weekend.
Penn State offers students everything we could imagine -- secured in a pretty little bubble nestled amongst the Pennsylvania mountains. Happy Valley cannot be reality.
College students everywhere feel anxious at the thought of graduation. But leaving Happy Valley seems almost unimaginable. Alumni tweet, "Happy Freaking Valley... It's good to be back," and "Happy Valley feels amazing as always. I miss this place."
Parting with this uniquely unified community that Penn Staters call home seems to be a universally sad day. This is why more than 100,000 students and alumni alike stand together in Beaver Stadium every football Saturday as happy as can be and proud of who we are -- not despite of -- but because of where we've been.