Michael Berube handled the introduction, emphasizing his guest’s rare standing as a giant in both the fiction and non-fiction worlds—”not just an acclaimed and accomplished writer,” said Berube, the literature professor and director of Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, “but also a brilliant contemporary critic.” He went on, and one got the impression Berube could’ve talked about Margaret Atwood all afternoon.
Instead, he ceded the stage to one of his literary heroes, a woman whose career seems to justify such a gushing intro. Atwood was in town this week to accept the IAH’s 2014 Medal for Distinguished Achievement. (You can read more about the award, and find a list of past winners, here.) She’s best known as a Booker Prize-winning author, but is much more than “just” a giant of modern literature: poet, children’s book author, environmentalist and, as she showed Wednesday, a dryly hilarious speaker.
Her speech was titled “Genre and Gender,” and it covered the history, evolution, and often complicated intersection of the two in literature both classic and obscure. I think I wasn’t alone in not always following exactly where Atwood was going, but I laughed a lot, and thought about more than a few things I’d never considered—for example, the gender themes in The Wizard of Oz, where all the “whole,” powerful characters are female, and the men are cowardly, unfeeling, brainless, or frauds. Like so much of Atwood’s writing, it was sharp, often funny, and nearly always compelling.
Her newest book, the novel MaddAddam, is the third in a trilogy that she described as “a fictional saga set in the near future, on this planet, and within the realm of possibility.” (The trilogy is set for an HBO adaptation.) Like much of her fiction, it’s described as dystopian, a mix both gloomy and funny of science fiction and science that’s perhaps not so fictional after all. It’s here, in the overlap of observation and speculation, especially about the environment, that Atwood’s work holds so much power. As she said Wednesday, she’s fond of posing (and answering) the question: “Do you really want to go there? If not, change the road.”
Ryan Jones, senior editor
Two very different cinematic responses to the Sandusky Scandal will premiere this weekend at the State Theatre in downtown State College.
Friday night sees the debut of Happy Valley, a documentary from director Amir Bar-Lev billed as “the story behind the Penn State scandal.” Best known for his films My Kid Could Paint That and The Tillman Story, Bar-Lev filmed in and around State College for a year following Jerry Sandusky’s arrest; the end result is an attempt to explore the scandal’s aftermath, and the climate that allowed it to happen in the first place. Sue ’62, Jay ’91 and Scott Paterno ’97, ’00g were all interviewed and feature prominently in the film, which will be available through iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play and other digital platforms on Nov. 21.
The People’s Joe debuts Saturday evening, and as the title implies, its focus is the life and legacy of Joe Paterno. It’s the third post-scandal documentary from the State College-based Porterfield Group, which also produced The Joe We Know and 365 Days: A Year in Happy Valley. The film traces Paterno’s life from his Brooklyn childhood to his decades at Penn State through archival footage and interviews with former players, fans, and friends. DVDs of the film are available to purchase at peoplesjoe.com.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
For nearly 10 years, Justin Brown ’03 has suffered from an incurable disorder that he and his family attribute to a surgery gone wrong. Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome is a nervous system disorder that causes extreme, chronic pain; Justin told the Ambler Gazette that the pain he feels “is bone-crushing; I feel like my bones are being crushed throughout my body.”
A benefit to raise money for Justin’s therapy will be held this Saturday, Nov. 15, in his home town of Fort Washington, Pa.
After complications from a 2006 surgery, Justin and his family spent years and more than $600,000 searching for a diagnosis and relief for him. They haven’t found a cure for his pain, but according to the Gazette story, they have discovered that warm water therapy is the best next step for his treatment.
“This is really just a dire, dire situation at this point,” his mother, Joan told the Gazette. “Everything is an issue and everything is hard and the only thing that can help is to get warm water therapy until medicine catches up.”
The nearest location with warm water therapy is located 45 minutes from the Browns’ house, and the journey is difficult for Justin to handle. The family is looking to install a warm water pool in their home, an addition that would cost about $85,000. This Saturday, they’ll hold a benefit from noon to 4 p.m. at Magerks, 582 S. Bethlehem Pike, in Fort Washington. The benefit will feature live music and a free buffet, and the football game against Temple will be shown.
For those who can’t attend the benefit, donations can be made on Justin’s youcaring.com page.
Mindy Szkaradnik, intern
In our November/December issue, which should be arriving in mailboxes any day now, the cover story is a collection of 19 tales sent to us by readers about their memories of life in the dorms. In case reading those stories makes you hungry for more, our associate editor Mary Murphy has compiled a dozen more that you can read online. They run the gamut from pranks gone badly awry to heartwarming recollections of friendships made that have lasted a lifetime. Check ‘em out.
Tina Hay, editor
In a contentious 90-minute special meeting Tuesday, the Board of Trustees voted down a proposal to formally examine the findings of the Freeh Report, voting instead to maintain its current stance of waiting until legal proceedings related to the Sandusky scandal run their course.
Alumni trustee Al Lord ’67 presented the initial resolution, which proposed the creation of an ad hoc committee to “examine the Freeh Report, meet with Freeh and his investigative team, review the full set of undisclosed communications and report its findings to the full board.” That resolution was defeated by a 17-9 vote, with Lord and the other eight alumni-elected trustees the only “yes” votes. A second resolution, presented by gubernatorial appointee and board vice chair Kathleen Casey ’88, proposed that the board “continue to actively monitor the discovery and factual investigations … and, upon conclusion of such proceedings, shall determine whether any action is appropriate and in the best interest of Penn State.” That resolution passed 17-8, with alumni trustee Adam Taliaferro ’05 abstaining.
It was Lord, during discussion of the second resolution, who asked Casey to clarify whether the action in her proposal (written in collaboration with Ken Frazier ’73) was simply to “continue.” When Casey said yes, Lord replied, “Continue to do what we’re doing? Resolutions should do something. This is ‘continue to do nothing.'” It was an exchange that got to the heart of the divide among the board’s members: The alumni trustees remain committed to repudiating the most damning findings of the Freeh Report, while the majority of board members argue that any such action is at best premature.
Lord introduced the amended resolution, first proposed in July, by acknowledging other issues that demand the board’s attention. “I wish that instead of talking about being pleased with only increasing tuition two or three percent, we were talking about decreasing tuition,” he said. “But what needs immediate attention is the Freeh Report… My feeling is that the consequences of the Freeh Report and the NCAA consent decree live on.” He cited comments and signs encountered by Penn State fans at the Rutgers football game last month as proof that the damage to the university’s reputation remains unchecked. “When I saw those signs, it occurred to me how far we’ve fallen, or how other people think we’ve fallen, because we don’t stand up for ourselves. I’m bothered by how meekly we react. Generally speaking, we don’t react at all … there’s a sense of ‘Suck it up, we deserve it.’ We don’t deserve it.”
The four-person ad hoc committee proposed in Lord’s resolution would have included Lord, fellow alumni trustee Anthony Lubrano ’82, and two members appointed by board chair Keith Masser ’73. The alumni trustees were unanimous in their support: Ted Brown ’68 argued that any trustee who said they’d be willing to defend the university’s reputation in a one-on-one conversation was obligated to support the proposal, while Bob Jubelirer ’59, ’62g disputed the need to wait on the legal outcomes: “There is no downside, none at all, if we review the Freeh Report.”
Counterarguments came from Keith Eckel, an elected agricultural trustee, who cited strong applicant numbers and an upgraded credit rating as signs of the university’s health, and argued that the board’s responsibility was to “our students and our constituents. I urge the defeat of this resolution and the moving forward of the university, and the continued observation of the results of the trials that are ongoing, and because of which we cannot make any decision today.” That response brought an isolated “boo” from someone in the audience of roughly 100 people, many of whom applauded points made by the various alumni trustees. An otherwise tame exchange between the business and industry-elected trustee Rick Dandrea ’77 (an attorney who argued the wait-and-see approach on the ongoing court cases) and alumni trustee Ryan McCombie ’70 led to a more strident response from the crowd; two audience members were escorted out of the meeting after loud outbursts, prompting Masser to slam his gavel at the podium, while Lord turned toward the crowd and made a “time out” signal to try to quiet things down.
When order was restored, McCombie finished his point: “We accepted a scarlet letter that said we are a ‘football culture,’ when everyone knows we aren’t a football culture. I refuse to accept that letter; I don’t think the university should, either.”
After a bit more back and forth between the two sides—and the removal of one more audience member after an extended outburst—the trustees voted, with the the “nays” carrying the day. That was followed by the introduction of Casey’s resolution, a brief back-and-forth about when the board members had initially received it (the proposal was sent out electronically last Friday), and objections from Lord, Lubrano, and Bill Oldsey ’76 about the proposal’s wording. Taking issue with the final paragraph of Casey’s proposal, Oldsey noted, “It says ‘consistent with fiduciary duty’ … and then it says we’re going to wait and see. Unless I missed the last two hours, there is a lot of disagreement on the board about our fiduciary duty.”
That disagreement doesn’t figure to change anytime soon. A quick vote to table the proposal until a later date was shot down along the expected lines—the nine alumni trustees once again voted together—before the actual vote on the Casey/Frazier “wait and see” resolution. It passed.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
The Nov./Dec. 2014 issue of The Penn Stater is hitting mailboxes now, and it just may be my favorite cover to date—a pretty huge statement, considering that A-lister/bus driver we featured earlier this year.
The cover art, courtesy of illustrator Aaron Meshon, is just so darn cheerful. After reading the accompanying story, a compilation of readers’ favorite memories from life in the dorms, you’ll understand what some of those crazy characters are up to. As always, the stories submitted by readers were lots of fun to read, and it wasn’t easy choosing which ones to include. We received so many great stories, in fact, that we’ll be featuring a few of the runners-up here on the blog. Stay tuned for that.
Another highlight in this issue is a story commemorating the 50th anniversary of women’s sports at Penn State. “The Long Game” features lots of archival photos and interviews with the athletes, who share detailed memories of those first years. This was the last piece former senior editor Lori Shontz ’91, ’13g wrote for us before heading to Oregon to teach journalism, and it’s just a reminder of what a thorough reporter Lori is. (We miss her—can you tell?)
You’ll also find a profile of John Kimmich ’93, owner of Alchemist Brewery in Vermont and the man behind Heady Topper—an India Pale Ale widely regarded as the best beer in the world. Kimmich overcame some major setbacks before hitting it big in the beer world, and his story’s a good one.
Also in this issue: A look back at Dr. Dick Bundy’s career as Blue Band director; a cool archeology project that brought a group of undergrads to Israel; an update on former Nittany Lion Devon Still ’11, who’s helping his four-year-old daughter, Leah, fight cancer; and more.
Had a chance to check out the new issue yet? Tell us what you think. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Murphy, associate editor
Here’s a guest post from our colleague John Patishnock ’05, editor of AlumnInsider:
Alumni Fellow Award honoree Keegan-Michael Key ’96g spoke with Theatre 100 students Wednesday morning, sharing advice and talking about his process of creating characters and sketches. Co-creator and co-star of the hit Comedy Central show Key & Peele, Key is in town for tonight’s Alumni Fellow awards dinner and has been making the rounds to various classrooms. During his 20-minute talk, he told students that comedy is about zigging and zagging and challenging misconceptions about what the audience expects to see.
Key displayed big-time energy with his gregarious personality, even obliging one student who asked for his autograph amid the Q&A. Key also spoke to the work ethic that’s needed in his profession, saying he routinely wakes up at 4:30 a.m. for a 15-hour workday. What keeps him going, he said, is that he’s doing what he’s passionate about. That’s one reason why he worked so much when he was studying at Penn State, saying he wanted to stay busy because he wasn’t sure if the work would stop when he graduated. Fortunately, he said, the work didn’t stop then and hasn’t stopped since.
At one point, a student asked Key if he envisioned being where he is now when he was at Penn State. “Not in a million years,” Key responded, but he said he made the right decisions at the right time and challenged himself. For example, Key was a dramatic actor at Penn State but has carved out a career as a comedic performer, and he told students they have to allow themselves to see beyond what they think their career path will be and be ready for new experiences.
“I’m not going to lie, so much of this is luck, so much of it is being in the right place at the right time,” he said. “Another thing is you have to have some kind of training, you have to have tools that you can use, but then the opportunity has to strike, as well.”