Each year we ask an outstanding graduating senior to speak at the Paterno Fellows graduation ceremony. Our speaker from the class of 2019 is Brian Loane. Brian majored in English and Comparative Literature and minored in Philosophy. His thesis is entitled “Whales, Judges, and Mortals: Human Will and Divine Destiny in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.” While at Penn State, Brian studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland, and did an Internship with Penn State’s Committee for Early Modern Studies. He was Secretary of the Kappa Sigma Executive Committee. And most unusual, he was a two time winner in the Paterno Fellows Collegiate Laws of Life Essay Contest.
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Good afternoon everyone. My name is Brian Loane, and I studied English and Comparative Literature, with a minor in Philosophy. I want to begin by thanking Barb Edwards for all of her work with the Paterno Fellows Program, and I want to thank Dr. Wanner for inviting me to speak today. I was so honored when she reached out with the invitation.
My last assignment before graduating from High School was a “This I Believe” speech, and I spoke of some very high-flown and grand concepts about how we’re all connected…or something like that. Looking back, I think I was a bit too concerned with these higher-order concepts. My time at Penn State has taught me to alter the scale of my focus—to narrow it down.
I’m willing to bet that I speak for everyone when I say that these past few weeks have been tough—A strange mix of contradictory emotions that shouldn’t exist at once but do. And it’s in this mood that I’ve been reflecting on the last four years. The central thing that I have realized is that the moments that I am going to miss, the moments that left the most lasting impact, aren’t those bigger moments like giving a huge speech, going to a formal, or struggling through finals week. No, the moments that I am going to miss the most are way smaller… the ones that, as they are happening, you don’t realize will be the memories that endure.
I’m going to miss studying at IST with friends on either side of me.
I’m going to miss meeting with a professor who develops into a mentor.
And I’m going to miss walking home after a long day to find a house full of friends watching the Office and laughing because Michael just cooked his foot.
These moments are tiny, and even common, but they add up to a unique experience in our lives—the small moments turn out to be the big ones.
But graduation isn’t just a time to be sad. These past four years have prepared us for all of the years that are coming. And that is what the Paterno Fellows Program specifically has given to us: the tools to go out into the world and to be citizens. As Paterno Fellows, we have learned in our classes how to read and write well, which adds up to learning how to think well. We have learned how to articulate those ideas and messages in the most powerful and expressive manner. With our study of ethics, we have been invited to consider exactly what a good life is, and how we can best achieve it. And finally, the Paterno Fellows Program encourages us to recognize that service and leadership are important. The Program provided us with an opportunity to act on these ideas in the world.
I took a philosophy course in my freshman year that I would never have if I hadn’t been in the Paterno Fellows Program. In that class, Dr. Colapietro mentioned a contemporary novelist named Colum McCann. We talked about his writing, his ideas of radical empathy that can help strive against hatred and his notion that the world is the sum total of our individual life stories. In one of his essays, McCann implores his writing students to take a challenge—to do what is most difficult. That is exactly what Penn State and the Paterno Fellows Program has prepared us to do. Commencement is a beginning. All of those small meaningful moments, all of the experiences in our classes, prepared us to go out into the world to do what is most difficult, and to succeed. Thank you.