The glowing sun illuminated Sue Paterno as she stood at a lectern, poised to kick off the marathon reading of Catch-22, and the sign that hung above her head spoke to the message of the day: “Proud to Support Penn State Academics”
It was just after 1 p.m. Wednesday on the lawn of Pattee and Paterno Library and the overnight reading of former Penn State Professor Joseph Heller’s classic American novel was about to begin with one of the university’s most notable supporters.
“What are we going to call this, Sparksville? Like how we have Nittanyville,” she joked to the large crowd, brainstorming a name for the group of students who would camp out next to the Sparks building to experience the reading.
“Or maybe Sueville,” she said, referencing the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Susan Welch who was set to read within the hour.
When Paterno began, she spoke the words with vigor, capturing each character’s voice and emotion. Stumbling on a few words, she chuckled and said, “Who gives a sh—t?” sparking laughter throughout the crowd.
After about 15 minutes, she passed the book to women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose, who read with similar passion.
Before leaving, Paterno posed for pictures with several students, including a group of high school students from the LifeLink program.
She kept up her lighthearted spirit and joked that she was free of nerves since she learned to read in the first grade.
Though taking the podium wasn’t hard for Paterno, she still made sure to stress the importance of the event.
“This gets everyone together to share a story, to participate and to start a dialogue,” she said. “It’s something we ought to do more often.”
As the titular speaker left the lawn and Rose completed his contribution, the pages kept turning with readings from- women’s volleyball players Maggie Harding and Marika Racibarskas.
Faculty members said they hoped this event would shine a light on the prestige of Penn State academics, particularly liberal arts and American literature.
Sean Goudie, associate professor of English and the director of the Center for American Literary Studies, which was a co-sponsor of the event, said Penn State offered the first course in American literature at a time when other universities believed the genre had no merit.
He also emphasized the need to show outsiders all the university has to offer.
“At this time, it is important both locally and nationally to show what an amazing place Penn State is for academics,” he said. “This will remind us all of our mission, which is bigger than sports –– to celebrate intellectual life.”
He also said the Paterno family has been “heroes and champions” of the arts and humanities at Penn State. Goudie said the English department would not be top-ranked without programs such as the Paterno Fellows.
Rose, the first of many readers to represent Penn State athletics, said he wanted to show his support for the whole university experience, which he believes is not exclusively academics or sports.
“The culture here is terrific” he said. “There is a great balance between the two.”
Rose said he believes that sometimes more can be learned from experiences than from classroom lessons, which is one of the reasons he wanted to participate in this unique event.
Harding (junior-food science) echoed Rose’s remarks.
She said although the media portrays Penn State as a school that prioritizes athletics over everything, she thinks all of the athletes are students first.
The event seemed to have a successful start as many passing students stopped to listen to the readers. Some sprawled out in the sun, while others caught just a few lines before heading to class. Some people even grabbed a copy of the book to read along with the current speaker.
The readers all received a T-shirt that said, “Catch-22: I read. Did you?” and the first 200 readers at the event will receive the same shirt.
Professor of comparative literature Eric Hayot, who helped organize the event, encouraged students to come at any time to read for as little as five minutes since he expects the final sentence won’t be read until this afternoon.
He said he was pleased with the turnout, especially those who came out to see Paterno, who he called a “huge supporter” of academics.
Hayot plans to salute Penn State academics each year by making this an annual event, he said.
He hopes to invite a theatre group to act out chapters and also try to invite more big names to follow Paterno in future years.
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