‘Dear high school seniors, Don’t go to Penn State’

This article is four years of frustration in the making

It had been four years since I first arrived onto the pristine clean-cut lawns of Penn State, and into the air of suburbia which engulfed its atmosphere like a giant, creativity-stifling blanket. Feeling trapped in the West computer lab, endless Powerpoint slides ahead of me as I studied for another Biology test, I became resentful of “My Penn State.”

I resented the classes I had to take which had nothing to do with my intended major. I resented the lack of relationships I could form with my teachers, who stood in front of giant classrooms and shared information I could probably find online, if I knew where to look. I resented the fact that, even though they had four years’ and thousands of dollars of my own money’s worth of chances, PSU could only provide me with courses I dreaded, excepting the occasional glimmers of professor competence or challenging lessons dotting my otherwise droning semesters.  As for my upcoming test, I didn’t feel inspired to succeed. I felt depressed at the prospect of the monotonous months ahead of me, and I felt angry that I would have to sit through them silently. So I wrote the following piece in dissent.

Within hours of publishing it on Medium and posting a link to Facebook, this article had over 400 views. Stunned, I contacted my friends. I read comments and replies, looking for feedback, looking for guidance, wondering what to do next. 15 minutes after checking the first time, I checked the stats again… 492 views.

The story was spreading much, much faster than anything I’d written before. I was terrified at the prospect of this piece becoming viral – this piece, of all my writing, was the most targeted, resentful, and furious condemnation I had ever written. Yet I was receiving feedback from people who felt validated by my criticisms: they, too, felt that they had gotten lost in the PSU shuffle, or that their brains had been white-and-blue-washed forever. Some could commiserate over how hard they felt it was to break away from the gigantic, monolithic idol that is Penn State. One person even told me that he could only see PSU as a “cultish religion where capitalism was god.”

But then I checked the comments not directed at me, those comments on other people’s pages who had shared my link, and they were less than supportive. Some said that “the author of this article doesn’t seem like she’s ready for college,” or that “it’s impossible to generalize this way.” Though criticism was not yet overtly harsh, I began to see the kind of response this article would garner.  Penn State is unable to be criticized the same way the pope is infallible: once you question the validity of either, you’re booted out of the social scene which surrounds them. But I still have a few months left here.

Not ready to deal with the backlash, I took the article down. But several requests later, I decided, ultimately, that I have a voice for a reason. The following is just one person’s writing, but many share the views presented in it. Many people have rolled to the bottom of Penn State’s social scene, unable to conform to the social pressures presented to them, but unable as well to find kindred spirits.

This article is four years of frustration in the making. So, while I add the disclaimer that this writing is simply my own, I also add the assertion that I stand by everything I have written, and I didn’t write any of it thoughtlessly.

Dear high school seniors,

Right now, you are making your decisions about what to do next year. I know you’ll choose whatever’s best for you. But here are my words of advice, as a senior in college who remembers the application process like it was yesterday:

Don’t go to Penn State.

In my four years here, I was hoping to grow, be challenged, and change as a person. I did change, but not in any way I would have liked. I am more cynical, less trusting, and less creative now than ever before.

In high school I found it hard to relate to my peers because I had big dreams, and I thought maybe college would be a haven of like-minded people with similar dreams. I did find a couple of these people, but the truth about going to a big state school is that big dreams are not the goal. Penn State’s goal is to educate me and get me employed. Penn State’s goal is to make me a favorable statistic. It is not, in any way, to empower me to be a creative individual.

Penn State is a social island, with miles of corn fields in any direction outside of campus. Here, culture is any open mic night you can get your hands on. It’s the occasional concert produced and paid for by the university itself. There simply isn’t a creative vein running through this place, it is culturally dry.

Penn State teaches you how to think inside the box. The best way to get an A, in 100% of the classes I’ve taken here, is to go through the motions prescribed by your professors. Have an extra idea, or step across a line if you likebut do so at your own risk of a worse grade. Four years here has made me almost forget what it was like to think for myself.

Penn State is the epitome of Groupthink, a psychological phenomenon in which a whole group does a certain thing, whether or not that thing is logical or right. If you live in East Halls, you are expected to behave a certain way, and you’ll have trouble making friends if you don’t. The same exact thing goes for the honors dorms. And for every single square inch of this campus. People here don’t wear their own clothes, they wear Penn State clothes. They have the same conversations over and over again. We are all being trained to be Stepford wives, husbands, engineers, chemists, even writers. Penn State hands us a basic program and asks us to operate accordingly. There is no room for anything else.

But I could never be a robotic version of myself, and could never stop thinking in my own way. I earned good grades, but only after I stopped asking questions. I made friends, but most of them faded into the backdrop of their own flimsy pretense. The few activist, creative groups on this campus are still struggling to find their footing. Maybe a change is coming, maybe in the future they will be more prominent. But I was in my junior year before I found a club that I liked.

I did try to change and fit in, especially in my freshman and sophomore years. But that was the greatest mistake of my life. Even if you do come here, definitely don’t do that. It is far better to be alone and remain true to yourself than the alternative. If you have to change yourself to make friends, those people aren’t your friends.

The tour guides will tell you that everyone here is nice. This is true. So are the Stepford wives.

In summary, my four years here have been creepy. I feel separated from “real life.” And the only valuable lesson I’ve really learned here is that you need to believe in yourself, even if it isolates you. Which is a depressing lesson to learn during “the best four years of your life.”

Go somewhere which excites you, challenges you, makes you a better person. Don’t go to Penn State.

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