“Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones. And I will try to fix you.”
These were the heartfelt lyrics from Coldplay’s “Fix You” that were sung by thousands of Penn State University students, community members and fans as they stood together as one for a candlelight vigil on the chilly night of Nov. 11.
The vigil took place in the wake of the recent Penn State controversy that has left the school without several head faculty members, including former head football coach Joe Paterno and former university president Graham Spanier. It was held to show support for the alleged victims involved in former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse scandal.
And though the scandal has shaken the small-town university to its very core, it is apparent that the spirit of the Penn State population will not be so easily broken.
A Wounded Town
As a long-time fan of Penn State football with personal connections to the school, I’ve visited many times over the years to attend home football games with family. The word “disappointed” only scratches the surface of my feelings toward the recent controversy, and I wasn’t sure if my planned visit to see the Penn State football team play the University of Nebraska on Nov. 12 would be in our best interest.
Nonetheless, my family and I headed to the not-so Happy Valley as planned, hoping to find the same energetic Penn State that we know so well, not the disjointed spot for angry student riots that the media presented.
Despite several stationed protests and strings of news station vehicles lining the streets, I realized that State College was the same buzz-filled urban town as before. Students briskly walked the streets of downtown with friends, talking excitedly about their Friday night plans. Visiting alumni ducked in and out of stores with their families to get last-minute gear for the game the following day. Someone with no knowledge of the controversy would never have been able to pick up on a change.
But subtle differences made it all too clear that the school was indeed wounded by the scandal. Shops advertised t-shirts with a tear coming from the eye of the emblem of the school’s mascot, the Nittany Lion. Windows displayed hand-made signs with the words, “We love you, JoePa,” and “Thanks for everything, Joe,” commemorating Paterno for his 46 years of service.
A Community Healing Effort
As demonstrated by the candlelight vigil, the campus of Penn State has expressed empathy for the victims of the incident, but they are gradually moving on from the issue by working together to restore the university’s reputation.
Individuals were encouraged to wear blue to represent the color associated with the “stop child abuse” campaign for the final home football game, showing that the university does not take the issue lightly.
“We have to raise child abuse awareness,” said Jeff Lowe, a fan that spoke to reporters at the game Saturday and had a blue ribbon pinned to his shirt. “No one wanted to see Joe Paterno fired. We want to see some good come out of this.”
And though the game was emotional due to the obvious absence of Joe Paterno, I saw no difference in the rousing support of the thousands of fans at the game, who would not abandon their team for anything and stuck it out until the very last second.
This controversy may change the way some view the university, but I, along with many other fans, understand that this will be only a splotch in the history of an incredible legacy at Penn State.
Whether the state community comes together to quietly sing amidst the glow of candles, or to boldly cry out the symbolic phrase “We Are Penn State” with thousands of fans at a home football game, the infallible spirit of Penn State University can never be diminished.
Want another perspective on the firing of Joe Paterno? Check out the Sports Jam podcast.