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Jay Paterno: A Thank You Letter to Penn Staters
by on February 09, 2012 6:00 AM

Since starting to write these columns, I’ve wanted to use this space to write things that are interesting, or useful and maybe informative.

This week I plan to shamelessly use this space for my own personal devices. This is a thank you letter to the State College and Penn State community for all that you have done and all that you have meant in my family’s toughest times.

The people of this community, friends and acquaintances have reached out with support, friendship, prayers, meals, letters and donations to charities in honor of my father. For a son who lost a father, it has provided the strength to walk a new path. Even more important, it has shown the strong individual threads woven into this town’s durable fabric. No matter what is thrown at us we will remain strong and united.

The teachers and school administrators have been beyond amazing for the young people in my family. The kids have had to handle an endless set of life changes that were played out very publicly. The teachers and administrators provided support and understanding through each development, each one worse than the last. As a father I will be eternally grateful.

But our thanks reach beyond that, to the support that has come from far beyond the borders of this community.

A few weeks ago, ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi flew from the site of the national championship game in New Orleans to do a living room interview on a Saturday afternoon.

He asked, “How do you feel Penn State has treated your father?”

My response was “Penn Staters have been great.”

The answer went on to state how supportive all the Penn Staters had been to my father and to our family. That question and answer did not run among the eight minutes that were shown on SportsCenter and Good Morning America. This column will expand on that answer to state how much the Penn Staters have meant to us over the years and in particular the past couple of months.

Penn Staters are unique, with a shared bond and a feeling. It is hard to describe. After sending some friends an email commenting on the support of Penn Staters, one response came back from a close friend that did not graduate from Penn State. He stated that although neither he nor his wife graduated from this university they felt like Penn Staters after being here for six-and-a-half years.

The response shared with him what I learned about Penn Staters — it is an earned privilege and not a right. Having a Penn State degree doesn’t automatically make you a Penn Stater, and not having a Penn State degree doesn’t mean you can’t be a Penn Stater.

A Penn Stater values love and loyalty to our university. Penn Staters serve others and stand for honor and integrity. Being a Penn Stater is a student braving bitter winter cold on a corner collecting coins in a can for THON. It is Relay for Life, Lift For Life, Take Back the Night, and the millions of dollars raised by students each year for people in need they may never meet.

Those values do not fade away as Penn State students leave here and become Penn Staters.

Nationally, the perception of all Penn Staters has taken a hit — unfairly. As the 2012 Dance Marathon unfolds next week, all the satellite trucks and the national media need to return to see Penn Staters in action. Let them see students on their feet for 46 straight hours. Let them be there on the late afternoon of Feb. 19 to see something beautiful. They can show the world how Penn State students rallied the university community to raise more than $10 million to battle pediatric cancer.

Penn Staters will not allow our university to be defined by the agenda of others. The example of Penn Staters making an impact will rocket out of the Jordan Center, out of this valley and around the world. That must be Penn State’s voice; that will be how Penn Staters sing our presence to the world.

Isn’t that how we’ve always done things around here as Penn Staters? Challenge us, tell us we can’t do something and we respond. When things get tough we rally to support each other. That is why I love this community of State College and Penn Staters.

In the past two-and-a-half weeks the support from Penn Staters around the country and from the people here in State College have been the air we’ve breathed, the light of our world. For that I thank everyone and hope to someday adequately make an impact on all of you, as you have done for me and for my family.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events. And was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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