It’s back to school time, whether it’s K-12, trade school, community college or a university. To me, it’s one of the most energizing and exciting times of the year and it brings back a flood of memories. Whether you are a student, parent, teacher, professor, coach or staff, it’s a brand-new academic year. It is the time when seeds are planted, and new friendships and lifelong memories will be made.
So, get out your version of The Black-Eyed Peas’ hit song “Let’s Get It Started” and let’s do this school thing and get busy making memories!
Memories of Penn State Move-in Weekend
We just made a trip to Lancaster for a wedding between two Penn State alumni, so we factored in a couple days before and after to renew some old acquaintances and to see our oldest kids in the D.C. area. Oh, and to drop off our dog Barkley. I needed some new hearing aids, so a quick drive to State College was on the docket, as well as a golf reunion with three of my former Penn State roommates. When you live 12 hours away by car, you learn to make the most of these opportunities, so you pack in as much as possible.
As we arrived in Happy Valley, the town was abuzz with families predominantly from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland. There were even a few license plates from that adjacent area to our west affectionately known as “The Worst State Ever,” at least according to some T-shirts you see when walking around town or Beaver Stadium. They are clearly aimed at our football rivals from THE Ohio State University.
As we witnessed the rite of passage of parents dropping off their students for move-in weekend, I couldn’t help but notice that it was cloudy and raining. Why does that so often seem to happen on move-in weekend? It’s always been Happy Valley, but as those of us who have lived there any length of time can, in full disclosure, attest it can also be “Dreary Valley.” When the weather is good, there isn’t a more picturesque place, especially looking at Mount Nittany as you drive in from out of town. But you do have to be willing to put up with your share of overcast, windy, rainy and snowy days to handle Happy Valley weather year-round.
The good news is that the clouds parted, and it became a crisp, cool late summer afternoon at Penn State. The next morning, we joined our good friends Steve and Gail Kipp for breakfast. Steve and Gail had surprised me the night before with the news that they had sponsored a brick for the new Legacy Plaza at Beaver Stadium in honor of “Coach Joe Paterno and Coach Joe Battista.” My wife and I were overwhelmed at this amazing gesture and can’t thank the Kipps enough, although I am certainly humbled and know I am not worthy to be mentioned alongside JoePa.
We arrived for breakfast just before the line at The Original Waffle Shop on North Atherton began to back up. By the time we finished, the line was out the door and wrapped around the corner a good 30 feet toward Atherton. As we departed the Waffle Shop, we ran into a married Penn State alumni couple from Greenville, South Carolin, who had just dropped their daughter off to follow in mom and dad’s footsteps. As we struck up a conversation, we discovered their daughter was most excited to attend football games at Beaver Stadium and hockey games at Pegula Ice Arena. That brought a big smile to my face. Pegula Ice Arena will be 10 years old this fall. 10 years? Where did the time go?
During our short stay, we ran into friends at the Waffle Shop, Wegmans and Trader Joe’s, and Heidi even picked up a new pair of tennis shoes from the great staff at Rapid Transit (the only place she ever buys sneakers!). My heart sank just a little as I drove down Pugh Street where the Days Inn and Mad Mex once stood, only to see brand new apartments being constructed. Back in my day it was a Sheraton, and it was where my wife Heidi (a PSU alumna) and I had our wedding reception in 1989. I took a picture and asked Heidi if she wanted to see it. She politely declined. Best to remember a positive picture of the good times we had there over the years.
As our short stay came to an end, Heidi loaded up on goat milk soap, shampoo and lotion at Whitetail Lane Farm before we headed over the mountain to the town of Belleville in the “Big Valley” for smoothies at Taste of the Valley and to get local food and farm products from Peight’s Country Store.
As we drove out of town I thought back to my own move-in day experience in August of 1978. I remembered it being scary, stressful, exciting and a bit adventurous. And of course, it was cloudy, and it rained…hard. We didn’t have any groups trying to raise money by helping us to move into Pinchot Dorm in East Halls, so that was left to my parents and me. Since neither of them attended college, it was a new experience for us.
My roommate, Ken Baldwin, who graduated from my high school rival Churchill (now Woodland Hills) had not yet arrived, so I was left sitting alone on my bed with a trunk full of clothes and bags of what we thought were enough supplies necessary to survive that fall “term.” Remember we didn’t have cell phones to call our parents to stop before leaving town to pick up any last-minute supplies. In fact, in those days we stood in line for the payphone on our floor (seventh), in the lobby of Pinchot or over in Findlay Commons. You called “collect” or you charged to a credit card, and you usually had a line of people giving you the evil eye as they waited patiently for the phone.
I didn’t talk to my parents every day and of course texting wasn’t a thing back then. Sometimes we’d go weeks without talking but we did get an occasional hand written letter or card via snail mail with a $20 bill inside (the equivalent of almost $100 today!). Somehow, we managed. We talked to kids from different parts of the state, country and occasionally other countries. It was part of the whole college experience. It was a strange new world indeed.
I didn’t have much time to be lonely or nervous because the next thing I knew I was out partying with my new floormates, signing up for intramural football and walking the routes to get to my classes. I also got a huge shock when I attended the first ice hockey club meeting and we were informed that the existing Ice Pavilion (where Lasch Football Complex is today) was going to be turned into an indoor track and practice facility for football! We were told plans were being made for us to practice on a temporary outdoor rink and to use a rink called the Skatium in the town of Mechanicsburg two hours away. Not exactly the start I had hoped for my hockey career at Dear Old State.
Well, there was no time to worry about things out of my control. In fact, this may have been the beginning of my realization that at least 50% of what we learn in post-high school experiences has nothing to do with academics and everything to do with life skills, including working with others who were different than us and from different places than us. It turned out that while we traveled quite a bit for hockey in those days, that group of guys are lifelong friends and we managed to win back-to-back league championships.
I remember seeing a sign on campus that said “Change… Embrace it!” I also learned to “control what you can control.” Or as former Penn State Icer Dr. Nick Pappas likes to say, “If you are in control, you have nothing to worry about because you’re in control. If you aren’t in control, you still have nothing to worry about because you’re not in control!”
Most of my friends and I managed to survive those transitional times from high school to college. There were a few missteps along the way, but ultimately most of my freshman buddies made it through school and went on to successful careers. Like me, many graduated with a different degree than what we had started. It was never dull, and it was four (+) of the best years of my life.
We arrived in Lancaster for the wedding of Mackenzie Kirsch and Rajiv Venkatardri, who were not only both Penn State alums, but also were both Lion Ambassadors — a common trait we shared as I was also a Lion Ambassador, albeit a long time ago. Needless to say, there were many Penn State and State College memories shared at their wedding.
The trip concluded with two days of golf with three of my former college roommates; Jim Zarnick, Clark Dexter and Don Studebaker. The three of us also share Western Pennsylvania roots and all were involved in Penn State hockey in management or as players. It was a great conclusion to a trip down memory lane before Heidi and I headed back to South Carolina.
My message to all you students, parents, teachers, coaches, and staff is to keep your eye on the prize and remember that you are planting seeds now and every year that you are involved with a new academic calendar. The table is set to create magical memories. Let’s get it started!