Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The value of community spirit

Last weekend my husband graduated with his Masters degree from Penn State. As we headed to State College on Friday for the graduation ceremonies, I was excited to get back to State College. We went there in 2010 for the Michigan State/Penn State football game, and it's a great town.  It's basically in the middle of nowhere, but the campus and town are a thriving community. I had a bit of trepidation, however, because of all the drama that's happened at Penn State in the last year.

Tailgating with Penn Staters and Patron in November 2010
As my husband has been a student at Penn State, we've regularly gotten communication from the university about the scandal of the last year. There's no way to right any of the atrocious wrongs that were committed, but Penn State confronted it head on. They ousted those responsible and came together in a unified front to support their university and community.

On Saturday morning I got up to run on campus. The last time I ran there it was November, so this was a much nicer day. The sun was shining, and I had campus to myself as I headed out on College Avenue from our hotel, The Atherton. College Avenue is an ideal downtown street with lots of shops and restaurants. Most of the shops are local, and the streets are very walkable. Campus is relatively dense with gorgeous old buildings mixing with newer architectural pieces. Even in the summer bars and restaurants were crowded with people.

Downtown State College
During my run I found myself thinking of Penn State's struggle in the last year. While nothing can ever make up for what happened, probably 99 percent of the faculty, students, and community had nothing to do with the actions that took place. Imagine if that happened here in our university community - East Lansing. We, as community members and my husband as an alum would be shocked and appalled. But it wouldn't change the way we feel about our community.

Businesses on College Avenue all boasted signs from the Downtown Development Authority that said, "Proud to Support Penn State Football". Some windows proclaimed that they "Billieve" in "O'Brien's Lions", a vote of confidence for incoming coach Bill O'Brien.  And everywhere in Happy Valley the community is trying to move forward in the wake of unspeakable actions. I'm sure they're angry, but what stood out the most to me as an outsider was the community spirit to move forward.

There are communities across the world who have been faced with tragedies - perhaps economic, perhaps natural disasters, or perhaps crime like these. And the mark of a great community is its people and how they come together to make their community a vibrant place.

"Keep Calm and Fight On"
Downtown State College hums with anticipation of the upcoming school year and a new football season. For the first time in more than half a century, the football season will start without Joe Paterno at the team's helm. And yet this community is ready - ready to move forward in a new era. Ready to heal together. Happy Valley will be happy once again. 

My husband and me at the Lion Shrine

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