This is a week for reflection at Penn State, as the campus, township of State College and larger university community mourn the death of Paterno, the iconic 85-year-old patriarch of the school’s once-storied football program, from lung cancer on Sunday. Wednesday’s funeral
will be followed by a public memorial Thursday at the Bryce Jordan Center. It is a week for contemplating universal, big-picture themes: life, death, legacy, redemption, community.
But for at least one group of Penn Staters — the thousands of seniors set to graduate in May — this is also a time for a very personal, self-centered question: What does the scandal mean for my own future?
As they meet with corporate recruiters and interview with prospective employers, Penn State seniors in many cases are discovering the scandal — in which a former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, is charged with sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year-period — is very much on the minds of the ones asking the questions.
Sally Chia, 22, a public relations major from Taiwan, said she was interviewing with General Electric shortly after the scandal broke in November when she was surprised by a sudden turn in the line of questioning.
“They asked how I felt about it, [and] what I would have done if I [had witnessed an assault]. I was caught off-guard,” Chia said. “When I didn’t get the job offer at first, I kept thinking, ‘Maybe I could have answered that question better.’ I don’t think it’s an appropriate question to ask just because someone happens to be from Penn State. We’re not to blame for something a former coach did.”
It was a line of questioning the university anticipated in the days following the scandal, as two high-ranking Penn State officials were charged in an alleged cover-up and two other officials — including Paterno — were fired for failing to act decisively enough. On the night of Paterno’s dismissal, thousands of students rioted.
In those first few days, rumors were spreading rapidly that corporate recruiters were shunning Penn State students, or even rescinding job offers.
In a Nov. 11 letter to students and prospective employers, Jeff Garis, Penn State’s senior director of career services, shot down those rumors and offered suggestions to students on how to deal with pointed questions during job interviews. “Students may acknowledge that they are primarily concerned for the victims and also concerned for Penn State in these troubling times,” Garis wrote. “However, students should keep the focus on . . . how they will excel in the opportunity.”