Penn State Reflections, Then and Now

By Chris Buchignani, March 17, 2013

A little over a month ago, the NVS published a short, one-off collection of an Atherton-era Penn State alum/prof’s remembrances of campus and its culture during the early 20th Century – The Reminiscences of Dr. F.J. Pond. Dr. Pond’s recollections, transcribed from his late-in-life conversations with an assistant, might have formed the basis of a narrative-style book, but his death left behind only his disconnected and self-contained ruminations on everything from the Pennsylvania State College’s changing physical plant to the pranks pulled by her mischievous students. Nevertheless, these vignettes are a quick and entertaining read that offer readers, as the back cover states, “a vivid picture of a place both foreign and familiar.”

For me, therein lies the real value. The anecdotal, personal nature of  the piece allows us to recognize something of ourselves in Dr. Pond’s reminiscences. We form a connection and, in so doing, come to recognize how Penn State, nearly a century later, is very different, but also how it is still the same. Witnessing the persistence of these timeless qualities that pervade our Valley helps readers orient themselves as citizens of a community in time, through both their delight in discovering these stories from another era and comfort with the easy comparisons to their own experiences.

A few days ago, Onward State published a short article by Penn State student Lindsay Hummell entitled Freshman Expectations vs. Reality, capturing the mindset of one freshman nearing the end of her first year in Happy Valley. Here is an excerpt:

Reminiscences_of_Dr_Pond_cover_thumb.jpgFloor mates

  • Expectation: When I went to Girl Scout Camp in fourth grade it was one big slumber party filled with bonfires, pillow fights, and scary stories. I expected nothing less of my relationships with my floor mates.
  • Reality: I never have, and never will, sing Kumbaya with my floor. With about 40 people living on each level, you’re bound to find a few gems, but when the girl across the hall gets caught having sex in your favorite shower and the shirt your neighbor is wearing is identical to the one that disappeared from your laundry last week, things can get kinda awkward.

I enjoyed reading Lindsay’s reflections, which brought to mind Dr. Pond’s. Her thoughts are uniquely her own and yet also much the same as those thousands of Penn State freshmen who have preceded her. They are worthwhile both as an echo of that legacy and the latest renewal of it.  And that is what makes our Valley special, magical – it is a place that is both never and always the same, welcoming an ever-changing mixture of faculty, townsfolk and students while binding them together through a shared, unchanging spirit.

It strikes me as particularly important that Penn Staters continue to put these sorts of reflections down in writing and that we continue to preserve them. Each forms one link in a long chain. They capture and preserve moments in time that remind us to celebrate our uniqueness and our common cause. Because after all, “We… Are Penn State.”