A year ago, our tranquil community, tucked into a valley and surrounded by the mountains of central Pennsylvania, was shaken to its core by the events surrounding the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Take a moment and reflect. Think back to last July after the NCAA sanctions were announced and you will surely remember how you felt.
At that time, a group representing a wide variety of interests and opinions joined forces to tell our story and to invite people to visit our community and campus to experience and enjoy a university and town filled with natural beauty, an indomitable spirit and unique soul.
This new community initiative was called “Together We Are One.”
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In the fall of 2012, “Together We Are One” mounted a national campaign that included specific actions intended to demonstrate that we are a community and university that fully understands its past and is committed to building a better future because of it.
That better future is already taking form and has exceeded our expectations. These past 12 months have been a story of remarkable resilience and hope.
The senior leadership of last year’s football team perhaps first grasped the strength of character and resilience of our community when Michael Mauti and Mike Zordich proclaimed the following before last year’s season started: “We take this as an opportunity to create our own legacy. This program was not built by one man, and this program sure as hell is not going to get torn down by one man. This program was built on every alumni, every single player that came before us — built on their backs. We’re going to take that right now. This is our opportunity to do that.”
Zordich said: “I am personally calling out every member of Nittany Nation — all of the students, faculty, fans, family members, alumni and everybody that there is. Please, please come support us through this because we need you just as much as you need us.”
The young men of last year’s team could have given up after being rocked by the transfer of some of the squad’s best players, followed by two losses to start the season, but they did not lose hope. Last year’s eight wins, (including in the finale against Wisconsin in what was perhaps Penn State’s most emotional home game ever) raised our spirits and hopes.
No doubt, differing opinions regarding the Sandusky ordeal continue to exist within our community. It would be impossible for 750,000 alumni, students and residents of State College to sort through the complicated events that occurred without having strong differences of opinion. People were touched and affected in many different ways by what occurred and opinions will always vary.
However, one thing stands out: We are Penn State. That means we have the strength of character and the resolve to work through our differences and to emerge stronger as a result.
The successes of the past 12 months are proof that by working together we can accomplish great things. A few examples:
• The creation of the Stewards of Children program aimed at child abuse prevention, awareness and education.
• Penn State continues to win with honor as the football team set a program record 91 percent graduation success rate in 2012. (To put this in perspective, Penn State’s graduation rate for non-athletes averages 85 percent.)
• Penn State Athletics won eight Big Ten championships this past year.
• The Penn State Dance Marathon continues to be the largest student- run philanthropy event in the world, and raised over $12 million dollars last year to help fight cancer in children.
• The Penn State Alumni Association (already the largest dues paying organization in the world) continued to grow despite the hardships confronting them this past year.
• The creation of a Children’s Advocacy Center in the Centre Region has begun.
And there is so much more.
Surely there will be distractions in the coming months as the trials of former Penn State president Graham Spanier, and administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz commence, and the details of their involvement once again become front-page news.
However, as Together We Are One starts its second year, we do so knowing what our collective spirit as Penn Staters has achieved and accomplished this past year. We do so with the collective resolve to ensure that our progress continues no matter what unfolds in the trials or with respect to the NCAA sanctions in the coming year.
The journey has only begun. Just as this year’s football team must find new leadership, new challenges will surely face our University and our community. But Bill O’Brien and his staff will not give up. The residents of this community will not give up. The students and alumni of Penn State will not give up.
Ultimately, together we will prove that this community will not only survive the NCAA sanctions, but will emerge stronger, more united, and more committed then ever to do what it takes to bring about a better future for our town and university.
The dream will not die in Happy Valley. The unprecedented sanctions imposed on the football program by the NCAA will not stop us. That is why we are and always will be Penn State.
This coming year Together We Are One will continue to share our unique story of commitment and resilience with the rest of the country.