It is easy to think of Penn State as being isolated and small.
After all, the university hub sits in a small town in a rural county in the middle of Pennsylvania, far from the metropolis of Philadelphia, the bridges of Pittsburgh or the power of Harrisburg.
Except that it doesn’t.
Let’s ignore the obvious wrong there, the fact that Penn State is not one place but dozens across the commonwealth, from Shenango to Scranton, Erie to Mont Alto.
But Penn State is not just a place. It’s a family without boundaries and an idea without borders.
As it approaches 600,000 living alumni, there is a community that stretches across the nation.
As a leader in agriculture, climate change and defense research, it has global give and take. Students and professors come from around the world, and they flow back to other countries and continents, exploring sciences, cultures, languages and history.
And with that worldly perspective, there is a camaraderie with people around the world, an understanding of human conditions and empathy for what happens.
That showed Tuesday as Old Main lit up in the colors of liberty, equality and fraternity out of solidarity for the people of Paris. It showed last year when Penn State students symbolically lay silent and still in the HUB-Robeson Cultural Center. It shows every year when students from across the campuses, even from the online World Campus, raise millions of dollars for children with cancer through Thon.
The causes are not all things everyone agrees with. The university is no different than the rest of the world, with people who have feelings, opinions, prejudices and favorites. For everyone praying for the French on the Old Main lawn, there was someone wondering where the support was for the victims of a bombing in Beirut. The Black Lives Matter movement was answered by calls that blue lives matter, too.
But the struggle to be heard, the fight to make a difference, the call to join the cause — that is something that Penn State students and alumni, faculty and staff continue to engage.
There is nothing small about that.