Former Penn State quarterback Shane McGregor put the events of November 2011 in his own terms at the inaugural State of State conference on Sunday.
McGregor, a 2013 graduate, said he wanted to “examine an issue that was a little different” than the audience would expect.
He said he wanted to talk about stories and the power of storytelling rather than his experiences with football.
“I think there’s an inherent power (in storytelling),” McGregor said. “A power to move, a power to inspire and a power to change.”
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McGregor joined 14 other student speakers and university leaders in an effort to create a dialogue on the present and future of the university. The purpose was to engage the 300 participants who attended in a conversation about university issues through speeches and breakout discussions.
McGregor said he wanted to talk about two stories in particular, how they interacted and “how we can use one to learn from another.”
The first story was the Jerry Sandusky scandal. McGregor said the one thing he found fascinating about November 2011 is that “nothing actually happened” in that month, referencing the fact that the crimes Jerry Sandusky committed had occurred years before.
“What happened in November 2011 was a revelation of information. There was no shooter on campus, no bombing … nothing that we would associate with being tragic,” McGregor said. “What happened was the telling of a story.”
McGregor then surprised the audience with his selection of the second story: “The Dark Knight Rises.”
At the time the film was released in July 2012, McGregor was “embroiled in his role as a Penn State football player.” Around the same time, the Freeh report was released and the NCAA imposed sanctions against the football program, he said.
“I was thinking about these issues during summer training,” McGregor said. “So when I walked out of that movie on a Friday night in July, I couldn’t help but start making connections.”
McGregor said he saw connections between the story playing out in his life and the story he had seen on the screen. In particular, he saw a connection in the scene where the antagonist, Bane, blows up a football field in Gotham City during a game.
McGregor compared Bane to the Sandusky scandal. The scandal created the same chaos and fear at Penn State that Bane created in “The Dark Knight Rises.”
He said that the sense of fear in the movie reminded him of Penn State in November 2011. Many were fearful and uncertain about what would happen to the university.
“The biggest question of all was, ‘What can we do to help our university up against this large and overwhelming problem?’ ” McGregor said. “What can I as one person actually do?”
In answer to this question, McGregor challenged the audience to “do what you do harder and better than ever before.”
“I want to challenge everyone to take bold, audacious, focused action,” he said. “We should not just settle for good when great is out there.”
In November 2011, Penn State was “in the same state as Batman, up against the odds,” McGregor said. But the Dark Knight found the strength and courage “to climb out of his prison and go save the city.”
Like the Dark Knight, Penn Staters are capable of rising above the “scar of the scandal” and becoming “great people doing great things for their university,” McGregor said.
“When we do that,” he said, “we can write the next chapter of this Penn State story with our souls and with our lives.”