(This is a blog post I wrote for my PLA course.)

One of the best things about college that I’ve discovered so far is that it seems to be four years comprised of moments. Obviously, moments make up any stretch of time, but college in particular is full of important ones – moments that make me realize things about myself, moments that challenge expectations I’ve been groomed to believe until now, moments that allow me to appreciate what I have, moments that deal blows initially but ultimately teach me more than any textbook ever could.

I know that someday I will look back on my time in college as a collection of memories; memories that have become faded as time passes and I can no longer remember the exact way my dorm room was arranged or the exact streets to walk down to take me to my favorite places. Some of the moments will no longer be as fresh in my mind, and though I’ll look at the old polaroid picture with the smiling faces and the date written at the bottom, I won’t be able to recall what jokes were told, what movies were watched, what secrets were shared in the way that I can right now.

But it makes me happy to think that I’ve been able to have so many moments – both big and small – so far during my time here that I’m not the same person I was when I first came to Penn State just a little over a year ago. My life leading up to now has been so full of anticipation for those “life experiences” that everyone always talked about, and now I can feel myself having those experiences and changing for the better because of them.

The first moment was the first night in my dorm room, sleeping by myself before my roommate got there knowing that it would be months before I returned to my bedroom at home. Then there was the moment when I went home for the first time in October and realized how strange it felt to be packing a suitcase to go to my house in West Chester. Then there was the moment when my maps app told me that my “home” was Simmons Hall and not 1245 N. Ashbrooke Drive. These moments, though they seemed small at the time, were big steps in realizing my growing independence and transition from childhood to really taking care of myself by myself. I still depend on my parents for so much, but college has taught me to depend far more on myself.

Some moments I’ve had with my friends have taught me what it really means to connect with other people on a level I’d never experienced. There’s something about living in the same hall as people, getting nearly every meal with them, running late night errands with them and for them, and experiencing things together on a daily basis that is unmatched. From the first moments I met some of my best friends (and it’s crazy to think that I didn’t know most of them before freshman year) to moments now when we’re sitting in my dorm room, eating donuts and playing taboo and feeling like we can talk about absolutely anything with no shame or judgement – I have learned from them all. I have learned what it means to have a group of people looking out for me and caring so much about my happiness even when I don’t prioritize it enough myself.

I could go on and on about the specific defining moments I’ve had in college to this point, ranging from the good ones to really bad ones, but I think what’s even more important is the total effect they’ve had on me. As cheesy as it sounds, I have learned so much through experience and I feel wiser as a person because of my time here. I’ve met wonderful people, seen wonderful things, and am often struck by the surreal sensation that so many things going on around me every day are so much bigger than myself.

I know I always get so sentimental and cliché in these blog posts, but no amount of writing can do justice to how grateful I am for these moments that are shaping me every single day. So I’m going to continue pay tribute to what I’ve been given one blog post at a time 🙂

Happiness Defined

(This is a blog post I wrote for my PLA course.)

The weekend I spent in Washington D.C. with the Presidential Leadership Academy was one of the most thought-provoking experiences I have had in a long time. I didn’t think it was possible to fit so much activity into three days, but even if it meant early mornings and late nights, I was so grateful to have been exposed to so many speakers, museums, monuments, restaurants, and more. I was also so grateful to have gotten to know so many people from all different years in PLA and become so much closer with our 2020 class. This weekend just confirmed my belief that the best way to bond with others is to travel with them. Nothing brings individuals together like talking for hours in a hotel room or spending nights exploring a city.

There were so many highlights throughout the three days, from hearing the diverse views of congressmen Glenn Thompson and Dwight Evans, to learning about the fascinating concept of urban/transportation planning from Eli Glazier, Sheila Borkar, and Ken Ray. I also loved Damion Thomas’ passion when he spoke of his experience curating the sports exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum itself was extremely impactful, and many of the quotes that I read on the walls have tattooed themselves on my brain and I can’t seem to shake them. The same thing happened at the Holocaust museum; going through places like these always strikes a chord in me and it’s so hard for me to wrap my head around the atrocities that have occurred in far too recent history. It’s simply unbelievable the experiences that many individuals had to endure, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture particularly emphasized the enduring prevalence of discrimination of minority groups in society today. The impactful opportunities that we were given in D.C. were unlike anything I could have gotten on a random weekend in State College, and I am so glad that I could get away and have this time to learn and reflect.

However, I wanted to particularly address the PLA alumni panel as something that was very influential for me this weekend. All four of these alumni were evidently successful in their chosen fields, but one theme in the conversation piqued my interest in particular. This theme was about how each individual on the panel defined their happiness. One woman, Sarah, said that she works in her dream job designing museum exhibits, but she is missing the social aspect because she works with “five introverts”. The other woman, Michelle, said that she worked for a long time in a job that she wanted but was very unhappy because of the poor relationship with her boss – unhappy to the point in which she would come home crying each night. She realized that she couldn’t deal with this anymore and now works in a much happier environment. The thing that stuck with me most, however, was when one panelist, Thomas, said that his happiness is defined by success in his career. At the end of the panel he said something to the tune of “show Ed and Helen that you are taking advantage of what they’ve given you through the PLA by going out and finding great success,” to which Helen responded something like, “But happiness and health are the most important things.”

While I understand the merit in defining happiness through career success, I personally believe that I want to define my happiness with much more. Of course, I want to find a prosperous career, but I want this career to be one that I enjoy. I want to form relationships with the people I work with, and I want to wake up every morning knowing that the work I’m doing is impacting others in some way. I never want to be driven by salary, title, or status. I don’t mean to imply at all that this is what the panelists want, but the conversation just got me thinking about what I want in my future. I really respected Michelle’s decision to remove herself from an unhappy environment, even if it was the job she had been striving for. I would make the same decision myself, because I want to feel satisfied with my work and life each day, rather than wishing the time to pass or feeling as though I was stuck in a place where I felt like I was suffocating. And I want my happiness to come from places other than work, as well. I want it to come from family, and health, and creativity, and a feeling that I am making a difference in the lives of others.

That sounds super cliche and turned into a rant that was longer than I intended. But now you can see for sure how thought-provoking this weekend was for me. I don’t know what my future will bring and I don’t need to know for sure right now, but I really appreciate weekends like this one in D.C. that help me to realize what I value and get me thinking about how I can translate these values into a career and a life.

Stadium Cleanup

(This is a blog post I wrote for my PLA course.)

My alarm sounded at 6:00 in the morning, and when I rubbed away the sleepiness that fell heavy on my eyelids, I found that the sky outside was still dark. Shortlidge Ave, the view outside my dorm window, was eerily empty and looked like a deserted movie set illuminated by the soft lighting of the moon. I’m never up early enough to appreciate a sight like this, but this morning duty called: it was the day of stadium cleanup.

My roommate and I threw on some clothes we knew we wouldn’t mind getting filthy and stumbled out the door, trying to let in some sense of alertness through the veil of exhaustion created by a mere four hours of sleep. It took everything in us to make our way to Beaver Stadium as the sky gradually brightened, but we knew that the journey would be worth it. We are both in club tennis, and those who participate in stadium cleanup get priority registration for the limited spots for indoor court hours during the winter. We figured that if there was no pain now there’d be no gain later, despite the fact that our bodies were basically screaming at us to turn around and get back under our covers.

We did stadium cleanup last year, and I have to say that it was one of the grossest experiences of my life. Last year it had rained right after the football game, and I don’t think I will ever be able to look at French fries the same way after having to scoop up hundreds of soggy ones left in soaked cardboard boxes. The dryness of this year’s cleanup made it slightly more bearable, but I can’t say by much. My back began to ache from hours of hunched over sweeping and shoveling miscellaneous trash items left by yesterday’s occupants of Beaver Stadium. The minutes ticked by slowly, and each time I picked up a water-logged chicken basket or half-full pint of Peachy Paterno it seemed as though another would materialize in its place. We were only there for four hours, but these were some of the longest hours.

Though I can’t say that I enjoyed stadium cleanup, I do have to admit that it was cathartic in a sense. Almost meditative. I spent the hours keeping myself occupied by letting my mind wander to wherever it wanted to go, and one of the things I couldn’t stop thinking about was the fact that I am so lucky to be able to attend a school like Penn State. You’d think that in that moment, cleaning up leftovers as my eyelids drooped and my calves burned from walking up step after step, that I’d wish I was anywhere else. But I actually thought to myself that even if I had to do stadium cleanup every single weekend, there’s still no place that I would rather be.

Like any school, Penn State has its negatives. The pervasive party culture gets the university into some very sticky situations, and there are definitely problems that need to be seriously addressed when it comes to student conduct, the way we treat one another, and more. But I hate when I tell people that I go to Penn State and the “frat thing” is the first thing they will bring up.

Why can’t they bring up the magic you feel in the air on game days, as if it’s something tangible, something that can be seen in every smiling family at a tailgate or every group of friends posing for a picture in their blue and white outfits? Why can’t they bring up the feeling of entering THON for the first time and seeing a crowd of thousands gathered for an amazing cause, with different colored shirts and signs blending together like watercolors on a canvas? Why can’t they bring up the craziness of the HUB which, though overwhelming sometimes, represents a huge group of people from different backgrounds and interests basking in the one thing we all have in common: that we go to an amazing school like Penn State?

Or why can’t they bring up stadium cleanup? Even in my hungry, aching, sleep-deprived state I could see how lucky I was to be at Penn State. I remember pausing for a moment and looking at the stadium around me and the field below. All of my surroundings were shrouded in a thick fog and it was quiet – a stark contrast to just twelve hours prior when the stands were filled with cheering students and fans. I thought about how happy I was with the decisions I had made that got me to that place, in that stadium, in that fog.

I was born into a life that allowed me my experiences at Penn State. Not many people get that chance. I am so grateful and so fortunate that I did. My school isn’t perfect – no school is – but that doesn’t mean I should overlook all that it has done for me in shaping my life as I know it and allowing me to create invaluable memories. Memories from things like football games and THON all the way to picking up soggy French fries early on a Sunday morning.

Advice Only a Mother Could Give

(This is a blog post I wrote for my PLA course.)

These past few days at State College were “Parent’s Weekend,” but instead of having my mom and dad come up to visit, I decided to go home. I hadn’t been home to West Chester since I left in mid-August, and this short break was much needed. Going home after being at school for so long feels almost like letting out a deep breath I wasn’t aware I had been holding in. I had fallen back into my Penn State routine, keeping myself overwhelmingly busy (the way I like it) and focusing really hard on both my academics and my social life. After a while, however, this can get very stressful. And sometimes the only remedy to the cinderblock of tension weighing on my chest is to get away from it all for a day or two.

This weekend it was only me and my mom in West Chester, and though I would have loved to spend time with my dad and my brother, I really appreciated the quality time I had with my mom. There are things we can talk about that only we can talk about, and there are things that I say to her that I know only she will truly understand. My friends give me amazing advice, and are always there for me when I need a helping hand or to simply someone to sit there while I vent and complain and let the pent-up thoughts spew from my mind. But there is just something about talking things out with my mom that is unlike any other situation.

Here’s why I think that is: my mom truly and completely, wholeheartedly and indiscriminately wants what is best for me. I know that my friends and the rest of my family do too, but my mom has been there for me through it all and knows exactly the right things to say to remind me what I deserve. There are times when I will be doubting myself, and she’ll make an argument with references to past experiences in my life that I didn’t even remember myself. That’s one thing that I’m sure most girls can relate to – if I tell my mom about someone who wronged me on the fourth day of second grade at recess, she will to this day know that person’s name and everything about them. And she won’t like them.

The point that I’m trying to make is that there is simply just some advice that only a mother can give, and some conversations that can only be had with the person who has been there for you your whole life and knows you more than you know yourself. I think it is extremely important to have a strong relationship with your mom, because she is there to both pump you up and remind you if you are being delusional and overthinking. This also tends to help when I’m trying on clothes – when it comes to this, my mom’s opinion is one of the only opinions that I fully trust.

I am so fortunate to have a mom that I can talk to about everything and trust with anything. Sure, we can get on each other’s nerves at times and occasionally we butt heads about anything from Facebook stalking to how late I’m staying out to what TV show we should watch, but I wouldn’t trade my mom for the world. This weekend in West Chester was exactly what I needed, and I can’t wait for the many more shopping trips, dinner dates, musical attendances, and orchard visits to come.