It Turns Out Happy Valley is Still My Happy Place

I was 17 the first time I walked onto the University Park Campus. It was the summer before my senior year of high school and I was deciding where I wanted to go to college. I planned to major in geology and the Penn State program was one of the best in the country.

I was nervous when we arrived and worried about the size of the school. Within minutes of being there, I knew my decision was made. Penn State instantly felt like home; all of the people there were suddenly family.

I loved my 4 years as a student. I moved to the Washington, DC area the summer after graduating and Ann (my roommate of 4 years) went to the University of Maryland for grad school. That fall was the 1994 season – the big ten champion, rose bowl champion, undefeated, high octane offense, fun to watch season. Ann and I went back for a bunch of games that year – we could stay with her sister (she was a sophomore, the same year as my brother). After a weekend of screaming at the game, bar hopping, and having a great time, I would return to work Monday morning with no voice but a big smile on my face.

Until yesterday I hadn’t been to a game since that season and hadn’t been on campus since the late ’90’s.

I think that the events of the last year have affected students and alumni in many different ways. I wrote about my feelings of anger and sadness last November.


I didn’t know how I would feel being back on campus after such a long time away. I found myself noticing lots of things that were the same and so many things that had changed. Many new buildings where there used to be green spaces and parking lots. The infamous Lot 80 that was brutal for East Hall residents to cross in the winter has a parking garage and many buildings now.

But most of all, I found myself happily walking along with a huge smile on my face. I could have spent the rest of the day wandering around, but there was a football game to see.

The game was so much fun! The cheers and the songs and jumping out of my seat for big plays – I loved every minute! And the fact that they won never hurts. The Beaver Stadium atmosphere is like no other – everyone in the crowd is focused on the game, there is no one wandering around while the game is in progress, and hearing everyone sing the alma mater brought tears to my eyes.

It was typical State College weather, dark clouds and bits of sun.

Although it drizzled off and on, it never rained hard enough that we were uncomfortable. And in the second half there was a rainbow over Beaver Stadium.


This morning I felt achy and tired and old when I climbed out of bed. I thought – I must be too old to sit on metal bleachers for hours because I don’t remember feeling like this in college. And then I realized a few things:

  • In the student section, we stood the entire game (sitting only for halftime) so I only sat on those bleachers for a few minutes.
  • I never had a 6-year old sitting (bouncing, sliding, eating cotton candy) on my lap for several hours during a game.
  • Game day involved walking from my dorm room (close to Beaver Stadium) or my apartment (also on the same side of town as the Stadium) and walking back after the game. It did not include sitting in the car for 5 hours.
  • I was out of bed at 7 am this morning. On a typical college Sunday in the fall, we normally got out of bed just in time to go to the couch to watch the 1:00 NFL game.

Then I felt a lot better, maybe I am not so old after all. I loved introducing Juliana to Penn State and have more to say about that side of the day…

5 comments to It Turns Out Happy Valley is Still My Happy Place

  • Love this post & the pictures! I can’t wait to introduce our kids to a Purdue football game! We haven’t been back since we graduated either. :)

  • Nonni

    Happy Valley still makes me remember that sad day when we left you at school that first day and going home Daddy and I were crying so hard that we missed the turn to Pittsburgh and didn’t realize it until we got to Maryland.

  • so thankful your day included rainbows.
    looking forward to hearing how j liked the day!
    also, i love nonni’s comment!

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  • Grama Julie

    That is really special- visiting mommy’s college. What a lucky girl she is. Her life is so full! If I hadn’t traveled all over the South during the war I think I would have had a very dull life to recall. Jen, you’re so smart with all your ideas to keep your children occupied. I wish you had been around to train me, I could have learned a lot from you.