Tuesday was college uniform day for Team USA. Breaking from our usual red, white and blue gear, we proudly represented the college programs that helped catapult our rowing careers.
Naturally, I wore my Penn State gear, but this time was different from my previous college-day experiences. I fielded questions and comments about how I felt representing my school.
How does this whole Paterno thing affect the rowing team?
Sucks to be a Penn State grad, huh?
Then there was a suggestion that I cover up my uniform, considering the ongoing scandal.
At 18, getting into Penn State was one of my proudest achievements. There were no prestigious alumni connections for my family to draw upon; my parents spent their savings on my education.
Like the vast majority of Penn Staters, I didnt go for the football. I knew nothing about the football legacy when I accepted my seat in the Class of 2007. I didnt even know who Joe Paterno was.
What Idid know was that the university could offer me a world-class education something that often seemed out of reach in the Pennsylvania area where I grew up.
And its something that remains precious to the families of many Pennsylvanians who seek a decent education for their kids. For many of us, a Penn State education is a ticket to a different life.
The rowing team was a club team and had next to no resources.
Did we have a relationship with the football team? We sure did. We cleaned the stadium after home games more than 70 of us, for six hours, scraping mustard off hundreds of stadium seats so that we could be paid a couple thousand dollars by the university.
We used that money to register for races and pay our coaches. We still had to pay dues to row and to finance our own spring break training trips. We bought our own uniforms. I worked all four years to afford to be able to row, as did many of my teammates.
And, somehow, this club team fielded an athlete in the 2012 Olympic Games.
Like all Penn State grads, Im sickened by the scandal. But in no way does it make me ashamed to say Im a graduate. For me, Penn State is more than a corrupt administration and football program. Its an enormous network of people who share the same story arriving wide-eyed at East Halls, eating at the HUB, struggling through Accounting 211, walking miles a day over a vast and beautiful campus and being adopted into a family of tens of thousands.
It is a collective feeling of community and positivity. It opened my eyes to a world larger than the one from which I came.
It provided my family with its first graduate from a four-year university.
Add the gratification of hailing from a self-sustaining and student- run crew team, and the result is one very proud Penn State graduate.
Natalie Dell is a health researcher and a 2007 Penn State graduate from Clearville.