I can remember feeling slightly incredulous when I first saw Joe Paterno in the flesh.
Incredulous, as in, “That's him? That frail man in the golf cart? That's it?”
It was last fall's “Football Eve,” the annual celebration held in Beaver Stadium that launches the first weekend of the football season and attracts roughly 20,000 attendees from Penn State's campus and community. The former head football coach was 84 at the Sept. 2, 2011 ceremony.
As the daughter of an alumnus, I had learned to idolize Paterno and was anxious to hear his welcome speech. Upon seeing him and hearing his raspy voice, I felt deflated.
I moved past my initial shock on Football Eve and chanted along with the rest of the crowd in Beaver Stadium all season long. I caught “Joe Pa” fever.
Now, 10 months later, I find myself feeling the same way. Shocked and doubtful, I have lost any faith I once had in my university's former leaders.
After the release of former F.B.I. Director Louis J. Freeh's independent investigation of the university yesterday morning, I have been asked countless times for my thoughts on Paterno.
Everyone wants an answer from me — and unfortunately, at the moment, I have no idea how I feel.
At some point, we all learn that our heroes are not infallible. This experience, of discovering that a man I truly admired ignored an opportunity to put an end to child abuse that was occurring under his watch, is my first in finding that heroes can fall.
It is difficult to comprehend this finding, especially when evidence of Paterno's positive impact on the university I call home is so apparent.
Paterno turned a simple land-grant school in the middle of farm country into a multi-million dollar research institution with more than 500,000 living alumni. He and his family have donated millions to the university for years.
I do not believe I would be a Penn Stater today if it wasn't for Paterno's “Grand Experiment.”
For those reasons, coming to terms with the fact that Paterno turned a blind eye to something that was so clearly against his philosophy of “Success with Honor” has caused great confusion for me.
I am shocked that a man who preached integrity ignored the plight of those who were abused, many of whom remained silent for more than a decade and will continue to suffer for decades to come.
As I work to chip away at the glorified image of Paterno that I so readily accepted, I am confronted with people who seek to argue with my pride.
I don't blame outsiders for jumping at the opportunity to put down my school. We are a proud bunch and I completely understand the satisfaction of seeing the proud disgraced.
But to be clear: My pride is in Penn State University, not in the four men — former Penn State President Graham Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley, former Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz and Paterno — who showed a complete disregard for the well-being of the children Sandusky attacked, according to the Freeh report.
We are not defined by the immoral actions of those men.
I am hopeful that the Board of Trustees will continue to follow the recommendations outlined in the Freeh report. I am hopeful that the report will help the university make plans to compensate the victims of this tragedy.
Most of all, I am hopeful that the university's efforts to find redemption through the creation of the Center for Protection of Children at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital will truly help those who have been victimized and lead to a path that will prevent future abuse.
Liz Bravacos is a sophomore majoring in marketing and psychology. She is The Daily Collegian's Friday columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.