Jake Aferiat Super Bowl

Jake Aferiat poses next to the helmet of the New York Jets, the team which he is for some reason a lifelong fan of, at Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

Rarely over the course of my college career have I cried.

Not that there haven't been moments that have called for it, and not that it hasn't been beneficial when I have.

On the contrary, I should do it more.

And so in writing this senior column, one which will likely be my last mark left on a place that has left such an indelible mark on me, I'm heeding my own advice.

I can't help but be moved to tears of all types — happy, sad, regretful, grateful, humbled, worried, stressed, basically every emotion under the sun — and profoundly so, when I think about my life and what the Collegian, Penn State and the last four years have meant to me.

Now, I could go on and wax poetic about the value and importance of quality journalism that places a premium on storytelling, minimizing harm and providing a voice for those who didn't have one previously.

I'm a journalism nerd, and it would be easy to talk about that for 1,000 words or so, but I understand not everyone feels the same about journalism as I do. So, I'll spare you... for now.

If there's one thing journalism has taught me, though, it's that everyone has a story, and everyone has a right to have their story told.

As I tell you a bit of my story, I hope to do so not from a place of self-aggrandizement or ego or being patronizing, but hopefully from one of genuine self-reflection.

My life, well upward of 90% of it, has been one of immense privilege — growing up wealthy, white and male in upper class, suburban New Jersey.

That's not to say there haven't been difficult moments that were tough for me personally or for my family members.

And I'm not out here to in any way minimize some of the real struggles members of my family may have faced.

But by and large, I have little to complain about.

I've had damn near every opportunity afforded to me that I could ever want — and some I didn't know I wanted until they were presented to me.

Yet, that's not the story for far too many people in this country and around the world.

Now more than ever as we argue about false notions of objectivity or the equally inane debate about there being two sides to every story, not gatekeeping anyone's story is supremely important.

It's incumbent on all of us, no matter what, to not give equal moral weight and standing to positions that are not equally moral.

The unending need for equity, equality and a better life for those for whom it's been out of reach for far too long is not and never will be up for debate, so please, don't kid yourself.

The incomparable Fred Rogers said essentially people make each day special just by being themselves.

But we've arrived at a juncture in this country where people, through factors they can't control and factors they shouldn't have to control, can't be themselves — to the point where it's even being legislated against.

This exclusionary nature of our society is an integral part of the very fabric of this country and the story of where we are today and why we are where we are today can't be told without recognizing and attempting to rectify that fact.

I apologize only for being long winded in my message, but not for the message itself.

But again, everyone has a story that deserves to be told.

And so if you'll permit me just a bit more of your time, I want to share a bit more of my story.

I came to Penn State knowing I wanted to study journalism but not really knowing what I wanted to do beyond that.

Then I joined the Collegian as a first semester freshman, and the rest has been history (please forgive the cliche).

I've been able to cover one of the nation's preeminent athletic dynasties, interviewed countless All-Americans, national champions, coaches and Olympians along the way and told some great stories in the process.

Jake Aferiat Big Ten Tournament

Jake Aferiat covers the 2020 Big Ten Tournament at the RAC in March 2020. Days later, the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

I've helped guide countless reporters to tell stories of their own and help them find their voices too, something I consider a great privilege.

It's in telling those stories that one of the most important lessons I've learned has been reinforced: It's never about the sport, it's about the people.

It seems simple, but it's true.

To reduce the people I've interviewed down to their athletic achievements or their title or any other descriptor strips them of their humanity, and I have no right to do that.

So for that reason, I've always strove to capture the essence of the teams and athletes I've covered in a hope to humanize them a bit.

But it's a lesson that transcends journalism too — we're people first and foremost, and that should always be at the center of how we interact with each other.

I didn't need the Collegian to learn these lessons, and others, but my time here certainly reinforced all of these.

My time here has also made me an immeasurably better person in more ways than one.

Jake Aferiat and Dad at Devils Game

Jake Aferiat (left) and his dad, Dan, at a Devils-Islanders game back when fans were allowed to hockey games. This split hockey fandom is one of the few points of contention between the two.

I'll be forever indebted to the Collegian and my colleagues, and we did all of this while being journalists who happened to be students — because if there's one thing you need to know about the work we do here, it's that it's as serious and legit as anyone else. We just happen to be enrolled in college.

I've made some tremendous friends and colleagues here and have constantly been pushed to be a better and more caring person and reporter, for which I'm eternally grateful.

I have to thank the Collegian for everything it's given me over the years, and I'm honored and humbled to be part of such a storied publication and to have worked with everyone I have.

As I finish this column, I find myself again welling up thinking about how this place that has been a 24/7 constant in my life for the last four years won't be anymore.

I'm welling up thinking about the tremendous people in this office, all of whom are significantly funnier, more grounded and better reporters than I am, and how I'll likely see them less frequently.

But mostly, I get emotional just thinking about everything that's transpired these last four years — both at the Collegian and in my life and just how much I've grown, matured and become a more complete person.

While I have the Collegian to thank for a lot of this, I'd be remiss if I didn't also thank the following people.

Please bear with me.

First and foremost, to my parents, Carol and Dan, and my older brother Scott: You three are the most important people in my life, and without your unrelenting love and support, I'd be nowhere. It truly means the world to me — more than you know — and every kid should be so lucky to have their family support them the way you all have supported me. I don't say that often enough or with enough emphasis, but it's true and please never, ever forget that. I hope above all else, I've made you proud, and thanks for always offering story suggestions and critiquing my writing.

Jake and Parents

Jake Aferiat (left) and his parents, Carol and Dan, pose for a selfie outside of Hiway Pizza in State College before moving Jake in for his senior year at Penn State.

To (in no particular order) Jack Devanna, Drew Aral, Jeremy Gunther, Jacob Ricco, Sean Tocci, Emilio Quevedo, James Nugent, Jimmy Dronzek and Hugh Cassidy: We've known each other for almost our whole lives. When I tell people I've had the same group of best friends since kindergarten, they're astonished. The fact that it's a rarity speaks to how special what we have is and how lucky I am to call you all my friends. To be able to have what we have for as long as we have is among the most humbling things and the greatest honors of my life, and I can only hope it's been worth your while.

To Jeremy Collier: You were my first friend and are one of my closest friends to this day. From those days at the Y in preschool to now nearly 20 years later, our friendship has withstood a lot and never wavered. That's a hell of a thing. You've become like a brother to me these past two decades, and I know we're gonna make so many more memories along the way. I can't wait to see what the future has in store. Love ya kid.

To Max Lauser and Griffin Olshan: You two have done more for me and have had more of an impact on me these last four years than anyone I've met in my time at Penn State without any doubt. While I can't speak to the degree of reciprocity, you've both become my closest confidantes in my time here, something I don't take lightly and don't mince words about. I appreciate both of you trying to get me out of my shell and live a bit, and I only apologize that I may have disappointed there. Seriously gents, thanks for everything.

To Jake Jurich and Gavin Wolf: Two of my first friends up here dating back to the days of the Snyder Penthouse, it's amazing to see how far we've come. I've been so inspired by each of your respective work ethics over the years. You're both destined for greatness, and I'm humbled to have been a part of your journeys along the way.

To Bill Rawson, Pat Lanni and John Affleck: The three of you have been my biggest mentors in journalism, yes, but also among my biggest in life as well. The lessons I learned early in high school have helped propel me to where I am today and to where I'll go in the future. More importantly, you all took a chance on me and recognized my potential, even when I might not have. You've all taught me so much and been so supportive of me since I started my endeavor of becoming a journalist. I know without you three, I'd never have accomplished even half of what I have.

OLYMPIC TRIALS COVERAGE

To Calvin and Claudia Ralph and Evan Jones: My first "journalism friends," I'm so happy you've become more than that to me and are truly some of my best friends. Even though I'm the only who's carried the journalism mantle, I've still learned so much from the three of you. We've had a ton of great times together, and I know there's so much more coming for all of us. Excited about what's next.

To Gianna Galli: The only person who's had the chance to both report and edit alongside me, and I apologize for that. I still remember recruiting you to join staff, and I'm so happy you did. I'm a better journalist and person for it, and the Collegian is better for it. It was great to have worked alongside you and seen your growth first hand, and I know the future is bright.

To Shane Connelly, Maddie Aiken and Lindsey Toomer: As the elder statespeople of the Collegian, we've seen it all and been through the fire together. I can't think of three people who I'd have rather spent the last four years rising through the ranks with. To be able to serve alongside and under three of the most visionary leaders the Collegian has ever had is something I'll never forget. I'm especially grateful we all grew closer this year, and I'm eager to see where our friendships go.

To Andrew Porterfield: You've had one of the most meteoric rises in Collegian history, bar none. You made an immediate impact and have continued to shoot near 100% since you joined staff. I had no doubt in my mind that you'd excel to great heights and would do so quickly, and I know that trajectory will only increase in the coming years and your draft stock will continue to rise. Sorry for the headaches I've caused this semester, but hopefully it kept you on your toes.

To the rest of BOE: Thank you for all being such constant sources of light and positivity in a year that has so often been devoid of it and in such need for it. I always feel better walking into the office and leaving it than I did en route to it, and that's a testament to all of you. Beyond that, you're all immensely talented and among the best in your fields at any college paper in the country, and that's something to be super proud of — I know I am of all of you.

Some of BOE

Several members of the Daily Collegian's Board of Editors pose for a photo during one of the Collegian's short-lived theme days. 

To Jade Campos and Becky Marcinko: You two will kick ass as EIC and managing editor, and it's a mortal lock that the Collegian will continue to thrive under your leadership. I only really got to know both of you this year, but the impact you've had on me and the Collegian in that time is profound, which is why I make my assertion so confidently. The Collegian in all its facets will be better off for having you two and Andrew leading the charge, and that's so exciting.

To my former beat partners, editing partners and any reporters I've edited: Thanks for putting up with me. I know it wasn't always easy, and at times I probably made you roll your eyes or made things a bit difficult. But please know it was from a place of caring immensely about the product we put out. You've all taught me so much and impacted me in ways that will stick with me for years and decades to come. You're surely the most talented student journalists in the country and having seen it firsthand, I'm honored to have been a part of your journeys.

To the Bajrang Boys: I never thought 30 people on Twitter could become some of my best friends, but boy was I wrong. From wrestling, to memes, to having good politics, it's never a dull moment, and it's nice to be a part of the most prestigious and exclusive club on wrestling Twitter. You're all tremendous in everything you do and among the finest people I've ever met. Your support has been integral to me this last year, and I'd be a vastly different person without you all. I hope I’ve been a worthy addition and a good member. #BB4L

Well, there you have it.

Nearly 2,300 words and many thanks later, that's a wrap on my Collegian career.

I don't yet know what's next, or when I will know what's next, but what I do know is none of it will have ever been possible without the Collegian and the people I've met here.

I hope you've enjoyed my writing over the years, and I hope you'll see my byline somewhere before long.

Until then, stay safe, do something nice for someone without them asking and never forget the impact you can have on even one person. Take solace in that.

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.