A Return to Childhood’s Gate

By Peggy Montella, Parent Ambassador (’86 Journalism, ’90 M.B.A. Marketing)

“When we stood at childhood’s gate, shapeless in the hands of fate, thou didst mold us dear old State” are lyrics that all Penn Staters sing, regardless of victory or defeat, after every athletic contest. As a second-generation alumni and current parent, I have taken those words to heart. Looking back, the six years I spent at Penn State did mold me. I was a shy 17-year-old from a small Pennsylvania town who picked Penn State because my father went there and I grew up watching Penn State football. I left after grad school as a 25-year-old with a great job offer in Maryland and an even greater boyfriend, who has been my husband for 24 years. I truly grew to adulthood in Happy Valley and consider it my erstwhile hometown.

As an alumna sending my oldest child to Penn State, it has been an interesting switch of roles. At the Spend a Summer Day visit, it was me regaling (boring?!) my prospective Penn Stater about stickies at the Diner (still delicious), ice cream at the Creamery (duh), and fun nights at the G-Man (now Primanti Bros). I told him how the 80s student section threw marshmallows at football games and how, regrettably, we most definitely did not know the words of the Alma Mater. Now, it is his turn to introduce me to new restaurants when we visit, show me the new buildings on campus, and not only does he know the Alma Mater, but he plays it proudly as a member of the Penn State Blue Band. It is “his” Penn State now.

This twist in roles made me wonder what my father thought when he dropped me off on campus as a freshman. He went to PSU on the GI Bill after serving in the US Navy during WWII. During his time at Penn State, he worked as a waiter in the ladies dorm of McElwain Hall…my sophomore home. It must have been strange moving his daughter into the dorm where he once served dinner. I recognize the feeling because I moved my freshman son into McKee Hall, which I called home when it was the graduate student dorm in the late 80s. It was a surreal experience because so much of the building was the same. Even as I helped my son unpack, I had to resist the urge to find “my” room!

Now that I have been a Penn State parent for a few years, I can say that I am equally appreciative of my history there and enjoying all the places like Otto’s and Primanti Bros. I am blown away by THON, which was a much smaller event in my day. There are many new, taller buildings going up downtown, but as long as we have landmarks like the Dorito church, the Tavern, and the Corner Room, it will always feel like State College (and home) to me.

I am grateful that my father lived long enough to see his grandson go to Penn State. It gave me comfort returning my son to campus after my father’s funeral to know that three generations of my family have now walked these paths, eaten in these dorms, and sat in some of the same old classrooms and restaurants. It is hard sending your children off to college, especially the first.  Knowing my oldest child would be at a place I knew and loved made it easier. Many things have changed from my father’s day to mine to my son’s but the spirit of Penn State remains the same. We Are and will always be…Penn State!

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