Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How I Really Feel Regarding the Penn State Scandal

This is either the fourth or fifth post I’ve put together regarding the scandal at PSU.  All the previous ones dealt with my feelings toward Jerry Sandusky, the firing of Joe Paterno, the Board of Trustees, the massive cover-up, the NCAA violations, etc.  This post, which I’m finally actually POSTING, deals with none of that.

Before I get too far, let me just say that my heart aches for the victims.  Nobody should ever have to suffer through any kind of abuse, and thankfully Jerry Sandusky will be serving the rest of his life behind bars.

The Pennsylvania State University was established in 1855.  Every year nearly 100,000 people can call themselves Penn State students, and it boasts one of the largest alumni associations in world, including my beautiful wife and myself.  Celebrity alumni include Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker for my fellow Star Trek nerds), Adam McKay (writer and director of Anchorman, Talladega Nights, etc.), Ty Burrell of Modern Family fame, numerous astronauts and other scientists, CEOs to major companies such as Nike, US Steel, Sheetz, and Fisher-Price, famous novelists (more famous than moi), and the list goes on and on and on.  Penn State scientists have led to groundbreaking discoveries in the areas of artificial insemination, nutrition, physics (including the finding of Deuterium), agriculture, forensics, aeronautics, and that list goes on and on and on as well.

Let me tell you a few things about my time at Penn State.  I transferred there in 1996 after completing a year of studies at the University of Pittsburgh.  During my freshman year at Pitt, I became very frustrated with the curriculum and the fact that the professors and especially the teaching assistants could not speak clear English.  I have nothing against non-English speaking people or people that learn English as a second language (ESL), and that’s quite obvious given that my in-laws are from Vietnam,  but when you are paying tens of thousands of dollars to get an education, you need someone teaching you who can speak the same language as you do.  You know, like calculus TAs pronouncing the words "nine" and "divided by" clear enough that you aren't hearing "mime" and "evaded boy"?  And with regards to the curriculum, my first programming course at Pitt was in the same programming language I learned in eleventh grade, and so I was not convinced the university was the right place for me.  I loved and will always love the city of Pittsburgh, but Pitt was just not a good fit.

Transferring seemed like a huge headache, but my father encouraged me to talk to an adviser at PSU Altoona, and so I set up an appointment, loved what I saw, and ended up going through with the transfer.  The act of transferring itself was rather painless, but the aftermath wasn’t that desirable.  I lost my near-stellar freshman grades and about half of my 34 credits.  And upon meeting with my new adviser, I learned that the University only took the first three semesters’ grades when accepting students into a major—and of course I only had one semester because my first two were lost in the transfer.  So my grades at Pitt didn’t count, and after taking an excruciatingly painful calculus class and another horrible gen ed that dropped my GPA below 3.5 for the lone semester that counted, I was not accepted into computer engineering where a 3.5 or greater was required.  Instead I was “advised” to enroll in the electrical engineering program, which I was told was “very similar” to computer engineering.  BTW, EE is NOT similar to computer engineering, Shankar Sundreesan wherever you are.  So anyway, after what would have been my junior year of college, I switched majors to management science and information systems—and then flourished like the bright boy I knew I always could be.

So yeah, my first few years of education at PSU were a bit tumultuous, but nonetheless I look back at them with fondness.  During one memorable semester, one of my friends and I shared the same late-afternoon break between classes a couple of days a week, and the two of us would go to the Rathskeller and drink a few and shoot some pool before heading on to our next classes.  I had quite a few entertaining classes as well, the most memorable of which, Oriental Philosophies, changed my life forever.  All my life prior I had a fascination with martial arts, which in turn prompted a fascination with Asian cultures, but that Oriental Philosophies course blew my mind with subjects like Taoism, Buddhism, etc.  In the years since that time, I’ve come to live my life as close as I can to the Sage of the Tao Te Ching, and I can thank Penn State for that.

I did not go to Penn State for the football program.  In fact, I can’t say I even watched much PSU football during my late teens and early twenties.  If I watched any sport, it was mostly Pittsburgh Pirates baseball or Penguins hockey.  I didn’t watch much football at all until my later years of high school, and even then I mostly watched—ashamed to admit it—the Buffalo Bills (I later became a die-hard Steelers fan, although a small part of me is still a closeted Bills fan).  As for PSU football though, I think it wasn’t until after I graduated from the University that I began to take more of an interest.

I can’t say I was ever a fan of Joe Paterno.  I didn’t dislike him either, but I’m not very big on celebrating people for their accomplishments.  That’s probably the Taoist in me, but I didn’t go to my own college graduation, I don’t brag about my own accomplishments and redeeming qualities, and I tend to always root for the underdog in reality television shows.  Kidding aside, that’s probably why those who first meet me tend to think I’m introverted or even shy.  Both of those words are just labels that do no justice to the entity which they describe.  I’ll talk your ear off if the subject is something that I have knowledge or interest in, but no, I’m not one for idle chit-chat or gossip or talking for the sake of hearing my own voice.  I live by example, and I try my hardest not to judge anyone.  So if you’ve never met me, and we meet and I’m not saying much, it’s not because I’m stuck-up or shy or even anti-social, as one callously insensitive coworker once labeled me .  It’s because I’m listening and learning who you are as a person.

But I digress.  I won’t say whether or not Joe Paterno got a bad rap.  I won’t give my opinion on the way the Board of Trustees handled the situation.  I won’t rule on the NCAA rulings.  I will say that Jerry Sandusky is a monster, as proven by a court of law and described in detail by his victims, and I will most definitely say that those victims should receive substantial monetary payouts to cover the years of treatment they will undoubtedly need.  And I’ll say that I’m not at all happy about any aspect of the situation in any way shape or form.

But again, I did not go to Penn State for the football program.  I went there for a quality education.  Am I embarrassed to be a PSU alumnus?  Heck no!  Do I feel like the university let those victims down?  No, I feel that a handful of greedy individuals with entirely too much power did, and just like a thousand other cases where this is seen (most often in Hollywood movies), the power-mad mighty have fallen and justice has been or will be served.

But I am Penn State proud, and nothing is going to change that.  I love my alma mater.  I loved the Willard Preacher and the Creamery.  I loved hanging out in the HUB, eating Chinese, listening to techno/industrial music while doing linear programming homework problems.  I loved doing the Daily Collegian crosswords between classes.  And heck, I even loved commuting, because without those long drives, I never would have had the courage or ambition to drive across the state, or states in some cases, to meet some interesting people along the path of my life—my beautiful wife included.

Only time—particularly the next four years—will tell what will happen with the PSU football program.  But in the meantime, I know one thing for certain.  If my kids choose to go to Penn State, I’ll be one proud Papa.  And if not, that’s OK too.  But one thing is for certain.  I am a proud graduate of the Pennsylvania State University.  WE ARE….PENN STATE!

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