After Tough Year, All Smiles At Penn State Graduation
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – Wearing a crisp, dark blue academic gown, Danielle Einhorn checked her phone a couple times and looked around anxiously as she waited outside the Jordan Center on Saturday before her graduation from Penn State.
The end of a trying year for Einhorn and fellow students had finally arrived. Seniors were all smiles as the university celebrated with a graduation weekend full of academic pomp and circumstance.
“It's bittersweet, it feels good to finish. It's a good year because we've been through a lot,” said Einhorn, a public relations major who wore a graduation cap that she imprinted with her first name, fraternity and sorority letters and a gray paw print _ symbolic of the school's Nittany Lion mascot.
Nearly 13,000 students are graduating this weekend across the Penn State system. The main campus in State College has about 40,000 students total, including more than 8,500 seniors being awarded diplomas.
It's such a large class that there is no single graduation ceremony for the whole university, just individual commencement exercises for each college, spread out from Friday to Sunday.
Save for one instance during early ceremonies Saturday, there was a barely a reference to the scandal that arose in the aftermath of the child sexual abuse charges filed against retired assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in November. Many students were among the 4,000-plus who took to downtown streets to protest the ouster of legendary head football coach Joe Paterno by school trustees days after Sandusky was charged.
Sandusky, who is scheduled to stand trial next month, has maintained his innocence.
Stephen Smith, the editor of the Washington Examiner, received a round of applause when he mentioned during his College of Communications commencement address that he attended Paterno's milestone 400th career victory in November 2010 at Beaver Stadium.
“Since then, you've seen up close when a story takes on a life of its own. The abstractions of the classroom become very real or often personal,” Smith said. “But we are here today not to draw on those events, but to salute you on what you've accomplished at Penn State.”
The November protest overshadowed the outpouring of support that spilled out two days later when thousands of students gathered in front of the Old Main administration building for a candlelight vigil for victims of child sex abuse. Students also took part in fundraising efforts for charities devoted to raising awareness about child abuse treatment and research.
“ We were all going through it together. We were one big family,” Einhorn said. “You could walk around, look at another student and know they were going through the same thing.”
Students came out in droves again in January to mourn Paterno's death at age 85. Many seniors say what they'll take away most out of their final year is the unity and community's response in the face of the troubling accusations and withering media pressure.
“It shows you how close everybody at this university is, whether it's the student body coming together or fans supporting us after off-thefield problems,” said broadcast journalism major Matt McGloin, who played quarterback under Paterno.
Otherwise, it was a typical graduating weekend, complete with newly minted graduates and proud parents lining up to take pictures at the Nittany Lion shrine. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu delivered the address for the College of Science commencement, which ended with one last rendition of “We Are ... Penn State” as graduates walked off the floor with big grins.