‘History of Penn State’ course

A few years ago a number of students and alumni came together with a vision for a new course at Penn State—specifically a course on Penn State itself. After years of friendly pushing and relationship-building the course is almost here, and Penn State News has spotlighted the course:

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A course examining the history of Penn State from its founding as the Farmers’ High School in 1855 to its evolution as one of the nation’s leading research universities will be offered for the first time this fall.

History 197, “The History of Penn State,” will chronicle and evaluate changes that have taken place at Penn State over the past 160 years and explore them in the context of larger historical and socio-economic developments in American higher education during that time. In particular, the course will study the conduct, leadership, and educational vision of notable Penn State presidents, faculty, alumni and coaches; dimensions of student life (including student protest); race and gender relations; athletics; and the challenges of University life, research and admissions in the post-World War II era.

“The History of Penn State” grew out of discussions with several Penn State alumni who serve on the board of the Nittany Valley Society (NVS), which works to “cultivate appreciation for the history, customs, and spirit of the Nittany Valley.”  NVS Board member Steve Garguilo, 2009 alumnus in information sciences and technology, provided financial support for the course through the Stephen D. Garguilo Nittany Valley Society University History Endowment.

“This course has been a long time coming,” notes Michael Milligan, Penn State senior lecturer in history, who created and will be teaching the course. “Using Penn State as the backdrop, I want students to be able to analyze and interpret significant developments not only in American higher education, but in American history as well.”

I hope to sit in on this course this fall. I hope it becomes one of the great courses at Penn State. I hope it stays a part of the available curricula for generations.

The first class offering has 49 seats, and as of today roughly half those seats have been registered. Here’s how it appears in Penn State’s registration system:

The course description reads:

This course examines in a selective fashion the history of Penn State. The time period extends from mid-19th century origins as the Farmers’ High School to the multi-faceted, modern research university of the early 21st century. The course will study the conduct, leadership and educational visions of notable Presidents and faculty; dimensions of student life (including student protest); race and gender relations; athletics; and the challenges of university life, research, and admissions in the post-World War II era. The Penn State experience will be examined in the context of larger historical developments in American higher education, student life and attitudes.

The course will take a distinctly historical angle: with emphasis placed on chronicling and evaluating change over time and thoughtful consideration of a diversity of voices and perspectives. A wide variety of primary and secondary readings will be assigned, and students will write several papers (including a short research paper). Undergraduates of all majors are welcome.

Penn State Greeks’ green shoots

I shared my perspective on Penn State’s fraternities and sororities last month, and it seemed to be well received by many both inside and outside of the Greek life community.

Administrators at Penn State continue to tighten what’s likely a noose around the necks of fraternities and sororities, however, even while the university’s official Office for Greek Life continues to lack any leadership that could serve as liaison between administration and students. In other words, full-time students are being asked to come up with what amounts to a revolution in the cultures of their fraternities and sororities without any vision or direction from Penn State administrators who seem transparently concerned only with the question of legal and reputational liability. But a smaller, less chaotic system of fraternities and sororities might be exactly what’s needed at this time in Penn State’s history.

Two “green shoots” amidst all of this.

First, the “Greek Support” program that fraternity students are trying to launch:

Now more than ever Penn State’s Interfraternity Council is seeking to foster a better relationship with the State College community. The IFC announced it will begin a new platform to work on this relationship: Greek Support.

Basically, anyone in State College who needs some extra man power for a project can request Greek Support for help from fraternity members. The program is not for profit and it’s open to requests from anyone — small businesses, individuals, or other organizations.

If Penn State administrators have any vision for fraternities and sororities, this would be the sort of program to latch onto and promote very aggressively as a unifying force for good through the campus and town communities.

Second, this open letter from Interfraternity leadership to Penn State officials:

We are committed to enacting significant measures to increase safety and enhance accountability throughout our community. We cannot do this alone and need the support of the Penn State family we love so much.

To President Barron: We want to work with you to address critical issues through measures we know are necessary. We are ready to change, but transformation cannot happen without partnership and a willingness to listen to and work with one another. Instead of talking through open letters in the media — it’s disappointing we have to communicate in this manner—meet with us, work with us, and collaborate with us. We are your students, too.

We also need consistent support from the University with a fraternity/sorority life staff focused on the needs of one of the largest Greek communities in the country. We appreciate the support of the current staff, but it is extremely concerning our community has been without a full-time Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life for almost two years. We have one of the least supported communities, not only in the Big 10, but the entire country.

Further, much of what has been tried in the past has been focused on top-down, university-mandated policy or programs. After promising to engage us in critical change conversations, yet again, administrators passed down more edicts without student input. We may have fallen short in the past, but for cultural change to occur, students must be at the core of those efforts through meaningful partnership.

We Are a community of 8,000 students, and inside that community lies the solution. Because we have again been cut out of the process, it will be even harder to create ownership for change.

To the Fraternity/Sorority Community: We need to make real change, and each member must share responsibility in that. We need to work together across chapters and councils and begin to have the difficult dialogue to address the issues of alcohol abuse, hazing and sexual misconduct that plague Penn State. We must take responsibility for our community and can no longer make excuses for bad behavior. …

To Penn State Alumni: We need your help and mentorship. Thank you to those who have supported us and continue to invest in the Penn State fraternity experience. Much has changed over the past decades, but we continue to need active alumni to serve as advisors, coaches and mentors. …

These strike me as genuine and heartfelt words from young Penn Staters desperate for a human (rather than bureaucratic) relationship with their peers and other community members.

Why not take them at their word, and collaborate on a grand vision for Penn State fraternity and sorority life with real deliverables, deadlines, and consequences for failure (including the shuttering of the system), hire the appropriate staff, and then get to work?

Penn State Greek Corps

As a follow-on to yesterday’s Vision for Penn State Greeks, I wanted to clarify some things after speaking with some who read it. I also want to offer a practical idea for how we might start addressing the problem of “spiritual meaning” I identified as the underlying problem beneath the surface of fraternity and sorority challenges.

First, a basic history of the fraternity and sorority system is worthwhile for getting a larger perspective on this topic. What’s relevant to note is that fraternities and sororities developed from something, and that “something” was often informally/organically organized literary and civic/rhetoric clubs. These were students who started with a shared interest in what we would today call a “special” interest, like oratory or singing or dancing or political debate. That’s why I pushed back yesterday against the idea of lofty and abstract language. Young men and women will only develop authentic relationships if they are together for practical purposes like singing together. We want practical relationships.

Second, the history teaches us that change must occur organically. It almost certainly can’t be viola’d with a sweeping “reform program.” And it can’t be the result of nostalgic alumni wishing to simply recreate the Greek system of their own time. Whatever happens, it should be something new.

Third, and relatedly, I have no specific plan in mind. There’s no program. I view the Greek issue as fundamental as “Will these places be vehicles/excuses to learn how to be human beings?” If not, can we find some other way to do that within the university structure? All that “other half” stuff that Cardinal Newman talks about in his book, The Idea of a University.

Fourth, because everyone wants a program even though I think a formal initiative would be foolhardy: Why not try something like a “Penn State Greek Corps” that would seek to “enlist” about 200 people. It would seek Greek alumni, but be mostly non-Greek. It would be diverse in age, gender, professional background, etc. These corps members would be asked to build a relationship with their designated fraternity or sorority, and encouraged to experiment. It wouldn’t be a one year tour, but something closer to a decade-long commitment—real relationships. That would be the only real deliverable, and I think it could produce significant positive results. These corps members would be honored at Homecoming. they’d be invited to meet the trustees and star professors at special events. They’d be shown love in various ways for their extraordinary commitment. Penn State would build a relationship with them, too.

After yesterday’s piece was cross-posted to Onward State it picked up 500+ Facebook shares and I heard back from many people who said it got them thinking. If nothing else, I hope that it helps Penn Staters think less tribally and with more heart.

Vision for Penn State Greeks

I remember touring Beta Theta Pi a few years ago. It was over Arts Fest in 2013, and I had been invited along with some other members of The Nittany Valley Society to see inside the new crown jewel of Penn State’s fraternity system.

An alum had contributed a huge sum of $6+ million to entirely renovating the historic fraternity basically from floor to ceiling and now that it was in physically excellent shape, Penn State administrators had been making a show of the place and talking on their website, their magazines, and everywhere in between about what a model Beta would be for fraternities. Beta had cameras throughout  for monitoring conduct in its the public spaces. It had a house mother to help regulate basic administration of the property. It had a working relationship with Schreyer Honors College, if I remember correctly—or at least a minimum GPA requirement and other superlative standards for membership. And it had been reformed as a dry chapter.

It was a lovely story, and one I was tempted to believe. If anything could work to pull Greek life away from the worst stereotypes of Animal House culture, maybe it was Penn State’s effort with Beta. I took some photos during my tour of the house that summer:

It took less than a decade for Penn Staters to learn what we got in return for $6+ million in alumni generosity and a years-long PR-campaign from administration: one of the the worst breeding grounds for scandal and ultimately tragedy in modern Penn State fraternity history.

After the terrible death of Timothy Piazza during a drinking party at Beta earlier this year, administrators hastily suspended the chapter and booted its members midway through the semester. And today, as criminal investigations continue into the total neglect of Beta brothers to look after a sophomore at their house, Penn State administrators announced there will no longer be a Beta chapter. I can’t help but marvel at what’s happened at/to Beta in so short a time.

A Penn State challenge, not a Greek problem

While the question of legal culpability for Timothy Piazza’s death is determined through the legal system, the larger question that we can all consider is the moral culpability of Penn Staters writ large—and administrators in particular—in modeling ethical and moral behavior for our 45 fraternities and dozens of sororities.

I wasn’t in a fraternity at Penn State, but I care about fraternities and sororities because I believe in their potential as distinctive communities to form young boys and girls into men and women. I believe in this potential because we know that historically they did exactly this—particularly through ethical and moral formation and the development of brotherhood and sisterhood. (John Shakely, my grandfather, was in a fraternity at Penn State, and my grandmother Marion was in a sorority at Penn. I saw the formative impact those experiences had on them even late in life.) If nothing else, America desperately needs to rejuvenate social structures and experiences that cultivate character and singular men and women with confident and grounded senses of self who are capable of being strong threads in the communities they settle. Fraternities and sororities served that role once, and while we could get rid of them due to the nuisance they’ve become, it’s not clear we’d be any closer to some better system of social development for young people. Fixing them seems a far more worthwhile challenge than the easier route, which would be washing them down a drain that’s already clogged with cultural traditions jettisoned over the the last century.

So I care a great deal about Penn State’s fraternities and sororities. I think the young people in them have largely been abandoned and left to their own idle and directionless ends for decades. After the death of Timothy Piazza, I was amazed at the number of older people so ready to condemn kids aged 18-22 for their negligence. I was amazed not because I condoned their negligence, but because I wondered what other than blame-shifting and poor behavior we could expect from the kids in an environment where they receive no meaningful ethical or moral instruction—or more importantly, actual modeled behavior.

Penn State administrators did just about everything right in their renovation and reform of Beta except the most important thing in failing to provide any concrete sense of ethical or moral vision for a fraternity. Instead, they held up lofty words. But words have little meaning when divorced from behavior, and something our culture almost universally lacks today is the sort of sustained and authentic relationships where modeled behavior has a chance of influencing another person. Without relationships, words are just abstractions and bound for failure.

Abstractions v. concretes

Beta had words: “To Develop Men of Principle for a Principled Life.” Beta had a purported vision, which included things like “Betas will be universally known as friends, gentlemen and scholars” and “Beta Theta Pi will be acclaimed and respected by the academic community” and “Betas will be in high demand by leaders of business, government and the professions.” And Beta had a mission, which included things like “devotion to intellectual excellence” and “high standards of moral conduct and responsible citizenship.” Beta sought to cultivate “lifelong friendship” and “cultivation of the intellect” and “responsible leadership” and “responsible social conduct” and “commitment to community.”

Beta shared, more or less, basically the same sort of vision and mission of every fraternity and sorority. Let me suggest that the problem with Beta’s words are that they’re abstractions. And abstractions can be bent to mean anything, or nothing.

Aspirations (for fraternities and sororities especially) need to find expression in concrete habits and traditions and ways of being. You’re not “universally known as friends.” Instead, you’re “known as the smiling and stopping-to-help fraternity.” You’re not “devoted to intellectual excellence.” You’re the “top-tier engineering fraternity.” You’re not “committed to community.” You’re “the visiting-sick-and-elderly fraternity.” You’re not “developing men of principle.” You’re “a fraternity that attends mass/synagogue/mosque together.”

These are the sort of specific habits and traditions that can sink into the bones of those involved. They’re not abstract, fluffy PR material constructed to earn “acclaim and respect” from the academy community.

I’d bet every fraternity and sorority proclaims some sort of commitment to “intellectual excellence.” That’s a beautiful thing. If it’s true, then tell me: Where are the obviously and distinctly intellectual Greek students? Why aren’t they being spotlighted every fall at Homecoming? Why don’t any specific names immediately leap to faculty or administrators’ minds at every Board of Trustees meeting, so they’re thinking, “I need Trustee Such-and-such to meet fraternity-brother So-and-so.” More broadly, where are fraternities and sororities cultivating distinctive strengths? Let’s have fewer vague pleasantries about “commitment to philanthropy” and instead be able to answer specific questions like, “Point me to the jazz sorority, please.”

We don’t literally need a “jazz sorority,” but we should be cultivating a Greek system as distinctive and full of obviously (and literally) remarkable men and women as we can. That’s what real community looks like.

Not alcohol, but a lack of spiritual meaning

Every time a tragedy at a fraternity or sorority happens, some alcohol or hazing or illicit behavior is cited as the problem. That’s certainly the case today:

Alcohol misuse, hazing and sexual misconduct among students are challenges at nearly every college and university across the country. Greek-letter communities throughout higher education are distinctly affected by these issues, and have generally failed to effectively address them through their self-governance processes. The same is true at Penn State, where research shows that fraternity and sorority members are four times more likely than the general student population to be heavy drinkers; sorority women are 50 percent more likely than other female students to be sexually assaulted; and fraternity men are 62 percent more likely to commit a sexual assault than non-fraternity men.

A large part of the challenge stems from the autonomy these groups have assumed. Typically, colleges and universities cede ultimate responsibility to the organizations themselves, and while alumni boards and national organizations share part of that responsibility, the undergraduate members are often given broad latitude.

I think the second paragraph could have been better written, but if its identification of “autonomy” is speaking to the need for better relationships between fraternity and sorority students with others, then I agree.

What we need, though, are not legal relationships for the purposes of rear-end covering. We need the sort of authentic relationships with young people that can say something like: “You’re 20 years old, and have just joined a fraternity whose mission is to cultivate ‘principled men.’ How specifically are you going to achieve that, and how will you make amends if you fall short?”

That’s the sort of question that hasn’t been asked for decades. And because no one in a position of authority has been asking that sort of question, young people have lost connection to ethical and moral vision and consequently what I’ll call a sense of “spiritual meaning” for what they’re doing in a fraternity or sorority in the first place.

It’s for these reasons that I think the solution lies not in fixing the drinking problem, but fixing the spiritual void that leads to total, unregulated, and unrepentant public drunkenness and debauchery in the first place. It’s a spiritual problem, in other words.

(I don’t mean to take this “spiritual meaning” problem too literally, but I have to point out that for the first 50 years of fraternity life at Penn State, something as specific as Sunday chapel attendance was mandatory for all students, not just fraternity and sorority students. There was a larger, common campus culture that rooted behavior. We’re less than 90 years removed from mandatory chapel, and many within living memory still remember how a practiced religious experience publicly shaped their lives and behavior, rather than simply serving as a sanitized, privatized “worship” service that wasn’t supposed to be seen or discussed in polite company.)

Too many today will brush aside the idea of a “spiritual meaning” problem, and ignore the void of meaning that I think exists in the hearts of most people (not simply young fraternity and sorority members) and will instead decide that trying to better regulate alcohol consumption, or make already-illegal activities like hazing somehow more prohibited (one of today’s recommendations), will be a better way to help people. Down that path lies the dual fate of morally-pleasurable virtue signaling for the “helpers” and ultimately disaster for the “helped.”

We can’t look to our collegiate peers for help. If someone else had fixed the root problems of Greek life, we would have heard about it. Continuing to adopt one another’s surface-level policy reforms won’t fundamentally change Penn State’s fraternities and sororities. That’s just a recipe for becoming derivative, and if that’s the plan, then we might as well close shop. No one seems to be doing any better, and that means we have an opportunity to lead rather than follow. To attempt to foster a whole sense of Penn State community again. If we want a better outcome than what we’ve got for nearly 50 years, we’ve got to consider different approaches.

Do we really care?

Do we really care? This is the uncomfortable question at the center of this conversation.

If we care, we’ll figure out how to mandate that fraternity and sorority students have full-time older people who live with them and have meaningful power to regulate their personal behavior—not only through an enforceable code of conduct, but also by earning respect through real relationships and decades of personal investment.

If we care, we’ll figure out how regular alumni (Greek and non-Greek) can be routinely and specifically invited into fraternities and sororities during special times of the year like Homecoming to be impressed by the talents and habits and traditions of young people, and those alumni will be given ways to form relationships with those young people. We’ll do this because we’re smart enough to remember that every passionate alumni giving relationship is simply one form of commitment to the community, and it’s well past time to cultivate deeper relationships with those graduates.

If we care, the reaction of townspeople and administration and faculty will not be to first condemn or tsk-tsk fraternities and sororities at every turn, but to figure out how to model behavior and form relationships (and even publicly shame them when necessary) in ways that encourage a healthier way of being. When is the last time a professor, for instance, showed an interest in building up the sense of self of a fraternity or sorority student, let alone a chapter or the system? When have professors been encouraged by the Faculty Senate or administration to do this as a necessary part of earning tenure—or simply as something looked upon favorably during contract renewal season?

As much as the students at Beta are morally culpable for Timothy Piazza’s death, so are Penn State administrators who have an obligation more directly than any other to elevate the Greek system. Today’s steps are small but important ones, but I can’t help but point out that Penn State’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life has lacked a leader for quite some time. (And its last prominent leader was most recently in the news on charges of disorderly conduct and prostitution.)  Today’s statement identifies “autonomy” as a large part of Greek life’s challenge, but it’s an autonomy that a generally indifferent administration has long seemed to be fine with—getting to condemn the Greek system’s worst cases of debauchery without ever being willing to insinuate itself into the day-to-day lives of those young men and women.

(A key threat in today’s news is that future sanctions could result in Penn State declaring the entire Greek system dry. What kind of a plan is that, given that Beta itself was allegedly dry? We’re instructing students that the solution is to drink less, but we’re not instructing them in how to drink responsibly—which isn’t typically the same thing as simply drinking less.)

It’s an indictment of administration, but also all of us in the larger Penn State community, that it’s taken a student’s death to even take today’s small steps toward changing something deeper than surface-level policy in viewing Greek problems as our whole community’s challenge rather than some vague sense that every generation of socially neglected 20 year olds have faulty ethics.

Showing that we care

Ours is a problem of spiritual meaning, and the solution lies somewhere near the cultivation of authentic relationships with the young people in fraternities and sororities that every Penn Stater should be encouraged to visit, know, mentor, and help elevate as distinctive members of our community.

Featured photo credit

Prove that it’s not transactional

Kevin Horne, a friend of mine and soon to be Penn State Law graduate, recently spoke to the Penn State Trustees at their February meeting in his last address as president of the graduate students. Onward State recounts some of his remarks:

Kevin Horne (also an Onward State editor emeritus) spoke in his final address, as he is serving a second term as president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association.

“I spoke last year about Penn State’s 15th president Eric Walker, who often spoke about the concept of a university having two presidents, both himself and the student body president,” Horne said. “This is a time when Penn State student governments had offices, built and paid for the HUB on their own, and contributed a great deal to many things that continue to enrich Penn State student life today.”

Horne encouraged the Board not to lose sight of what made them fall in love with Penn State and want to serve the university in the first place. He explained Penn State should be more about the number of degrees earned each year of the ratio of students placed in jobs immediately after graduation.

“Students are not customers as some trustees or administrators refer to them, when we log into LionPATH and are forced to schedule courses by adding them to what is called a shopping cart,” Horne said. “The Penn State experience becomes more transactional and shallow, less special, and the spirit of our founders less vibrant. College must be more than just the acquisition of job skills or certification of courses passed.”

Horne quoted Provost Nick Jones, who said yesterday in a Board of Trustees committee meeting that Penn State is about the people here. Students are attracted to Penn State not by the building renovations that increase student tuition and fees, but rather by the faculty and other students inside the buildings.

“A former Penn State trustee wrote that the Penn State spirit is indestructible, but only if in a practical sense we allow it to come alive inside of us. If we can conceive of our place as something far beyond the role of students as customers, we have begun to answer that question,” Horne said. “It is on all of us here — students, trustees, administrators, everyone — and you as the Board, ultimate governing body to open your heart and cultivate a vision for the future of Penn State as vast and ambitious as that of our founders. Only then will we have met the challenge of the question what kind of University is Penn State. Only then will we honor what’s always made Penn State great.”

What is Kevin suggesting? Nothing less than a revolution in how Penn State’s leaders think about their roles—both the trustees as the strategic leadership, and the administration as the operational leadership.

What Kevin is stressing is that words really matter. No amount of lofty rhetoric from Penn State administrators can change the fact that every student encounters the language of commerce when registering for his or her courses: “Add course to my shopping cart.” This language impacts the perception of tens of thousands of young people in understanding what Penn State is, and for the worse.

Far more than updates on campus roofing and renovation plans, engaged trustees should be pressing administrators in good faith on how they will make every student feel less like a statistic within a grand system, and more like a person of infinite and distinct worth.

Kevin is one of the few voices speaking for what Penn State could be, rather than just regurgitating PR lines about what it presently is.

Discovering Evan Pugh

Chris Buchignani writes “In Search of Evan Pugh,” which I’m excerpting from liberally. I’m also including two photos that I took of Pugh’s gravesite when Chris and Kevin Horne and I visited there last spring. Bellefonte’s Union Cemetery is an idyllic place, and the perfect setting for this story:

Evan Pugh, Penn State’s founding president and one of the most consequential personalities in the Valley’s history, whiles away eternity just a short journey from the flowering campus whose humble seeds he planted. He is memorialized as a scholar, scientist, and leader at his gravesite in Bellefonte’s Union Cemetery.

Soon after his arrival here, Pugh began courting, and eventually married, Rebecca Valentine, daughter of one of Bellefonte’s most important families. He is buried alongside her in the family plot. Once a hub of power and influence throughout the commonwealth, attractor of wealth and exporter of governors, modern Bellefonte retains much of its historic character, but only a fraction of its practical significance. So it is with the gravesite of its once-famous socialites. In their time, Pugh and Valentine were the Nittany Valley’s original power couple; now their place of honor lies in silent neglect. The community that inherited their legacy bustles on ahead, its founder largely forgotten.

The first president of Penn State deserves better.

Over its 160 years, Old State has weathered wild turbulence blowing in from the wider world – civil war and world war, social revolution and heart-breaking scandal – more than once it has teetered on the brink of extinction, yet always it has persevered. Pugh deserves to be remembered as the progenitor of that hardy nature, our penchant for defiant survival.

While barely remembered or recognized today, Pugh is the perfect central character for Penn State’s origin story. Erwin Runkle, the University’s first historian, painted him as possessing “a rugged, energetic physique, a straight-forward common sense manner, combined with the heart of a child, and the integrity and moral robustness of mature manhood.” A bull-necked he-man built to tame the wild, but with a keen, inquisitive mind better suited to conquering a more esoteric landscape.

When he assumed the presidency of a fledgling agricultural college situated in what, to most, seemed like the middle of nowhere, but Pugh called “splendid isolation,” the entire notion of bringing the baser study of agriculture and industry to the hallowed enterprise of higher education was itself a risky proposition. Only through Pugh’s dogged leadership and dedication to a revolutionary vision for American education did the Farmers High School find its footing, and though he tragically died young, so impactful was his short time that its influence echoes through the ages.

The man deserves a statue or memorial on campus. As things stand today, we’ve failed even to honor his memory by caring for his burial place. Seemingly abandoned by the family line, the Valentine plot has fallen into disrepair over the decades. The tombstones have become grimy and covered in lichen; the landscaping, such as it is, overgrown and unkempt, and the once-ornate wrought iron fence enclosing it crumbles.’

It might seem like a stretch, but after studying Pugh’s life over the past decade I’ve come to believe that no one can properly understand Penn State’s instrinsic spirit, nor its eventual emergence as a national institution, without understanding the unifying and clarifying personality of Evan Pugh who shaped our definitive founding years. An ambition of ours is for Penn State to begin institutionally honoring Evan and Rebecca. It’s my dream that one day a small Bellefonte choir performance and memorial ceremony at their gravesite will become a part of our Homecoming tradition.

The journey of exploring Pugh’s back story has revealed much that we did not expect: Finding an original handwritten copy of Rebecca Valentine’s will at Bellefonte’s Pennsylvania Room, encountering the Bog Turtle Brewery in Pugh’s hometown of Oxford, PA and their limited run of Evan Pugh Vanilla Porter, discovering a forgotten memorial marker placed by the University on family lands still inhabited by Pugh’s distant descendants. We take pride in restoring some luster to the memory of our Penn State family’s “first couple,” and we enjoy the pleasant surprises along the way.

So why all the fuss? If, today, so few people venture out to honor Evan Pugh’s memory that his grave fell into disrepair in the first place, why bother with some long-dead historical figure it seems most people can’t be bothered to remember?

Because whether you are an individual or a community, knowing your story – and honoring its heroes – builds confidence and inner strength.

Chris Buchignani’s ‘State of State’ talk

Ever wondered why Happy Valley has its name? Why the spirit of Penn Staters is so ubiquitous and recognizable? How a relatively isolated part of Pennsylvania became home to one of the nation’s great universities?

Chris Buchignani delivered a talk at Penn State at last month’s “State of State” conference that answers these questions and more.

My favorite part of Chris’s deck was this slide, portraying the typical student’s sense of “Happy Valley” unless/until they become aquainted with the larger region by forming a relationship with someone who cares about them, their experience of place, and their future.


This would be a great poster.