Commentary: Scandal has Penn State alums running on empty

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There's a 2-foot by 3-foot empty spot on my bedroom wall today.

What hung there represented the culmination of five-years of very hard work, some of the best times of my life, $40,000 of my parents' money and, now, enough righteous indignation to fill Beaver Stadium.

What hung there were the two framed diplomas I earned from Penn State University in the spring of 2000.

I didn't burn them or pitch them. I'm not that dramatic. I simply took them down for now. Looking at them -- affixed with Graham Spanier's signature -- makes my fists clench, stomach jump, teeth gnash and temples tighten into a slow burning tension headache.

I Am ... Penn State.

This emotional equation could be expressed something like: [(outrage + disgust) x (betrayal + shame)] = sadness. There are hundreds of thousands of alumni experiencing the same this week.

But we've merely had our trust and hearts broken. There are at least eight young men who have lost everything.

The shame and terror they feel. That they'll struggle always with this. That they're statistically much more likely to succumb to drug and alcohol addiction, to act out violently, to be incarcerated, to commit suicide, to propagate the cycle of abuse.

Everything.

• • •


"Many of us were drawn to Penn State because there is no place like it anywhere, whether you're talking about the physical place, or the integrity that it represented. There was the Penn State Way and there was everyone else. And I appreciated that. I applied that to my life. I try to conduct myself with the simple honesty and integrity that I connected with PSU. That is gone. And that sickens me because it makes all that other stuff seem like a lie." -- R.J. Hufnagel, Emsworth. Class of 1994

"I've been fooled so many times in the past by institutions that were supposed to stand for something that I can't buy into anything anymore. I respected what Penn State was supposed to stand for. In the end, it was all just another marketing scheme, another good story that we all wanted so much to believe, and we were all duped." -- Don Stewart, West Reading. Class of 2000

• • •


Tragedy. Closure. Time to heal. Moving on. Moving forward. Never again. Remember. Pray for.

Hollow tripe.

From Columbine to Katrina, we're experts when it comes to "dealing" with grief. We parrot phrases that really say, "I feel bad, but I'm not terribly interested in thinking about this anymore."

If you went to or attend Penn State and you truly love the place, then you should sit in this horrible stink and filth and let it fester for as long as you can possibly stand it. You want things to change, then DON'T move on. Examine every aspect of this abomination and figure out how Penn State University, with its sterling academic reputation, brilliant faculty, passionate student body and massive alumni network can re-establish itself as a force for good after all of this.

An unprecedented endowment to the psychology, criminal justice, education and law schools to become the pre-eminent institution in the world for the study, prevention, treatment and prosecution of childhood sexual abuse. An event that dwarfs THON to raise money for sexual abuse victims. That'll be a start. So will this: http://www.proudtobeapennstater.com/.

This goes the other way, too. Talk radio, Twitter and Facebook are awash with sanctimony and Monday-morning moralizing from people telling us how they would've done more to protect children.

Great. Here's your chance. These local agencies work with kids from bad situations: Big Brothers Big Sisters; Family Resources; Outreach Teen & Family Services; Child Advocacy Center at Children's Hospital; A Child's Place at Mercy; ChildWatch of Pittsburgh. Call them. They'll gladly accept your donations and offers to volunteer.

• • •


"My anger makes it hard for me to take pride in being a Penn State alum, but I cannot let the lack of understanding, the lack of ethics and a lack of human decency cloud the great things I learned and experienced during my time at Penn State." -- Chris Masse, Williamsport. Class of 1999

"I never made my decision to attend Penn State because of Joe Paterno. It was based on the quality of education, a beautiful campus and the hope that my experiences there would lead me to bigger and better things in life. I've never questioned my decision to go to Penn State and this changes nothing for me. I'll continue to donate money to the same programs that benefited me so that it can have the same effect for other students. Penn State will always be my second home and I'm not going to let anyone or anyone's actions take that away from me." -- Mindy Snider, Robinson. Class of 2001

• • •


I went up to Penn State for the Illinois game two weeks ago with my dad. We took Jaymes, my little brother from Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Was my first visit in a few years. We had a blast. A freak October snowstorm. A defensive struggle pulled out in the last moments by the home team. We walked around campus, checking my old haunts. Got burgers at Baby's. Punctuated the trip with a Creamery stop.

I'm glad I went and that I have that memory now. It'll be the last good one for a while.

I love Penn State. But, We Are?

Not right now.

Someday, hopefully, We Will Be again.

And those diplomas go back on the wall.


Dan Gigler: dgigler@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1884.


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