May our lives but swell thy fame
Ah, Homecoming. October 14, 2018, is a date all Penn Staters are looking forward to, alumni and students alike. Some might say it's the best week of the year because of school pride. Others, because it's a week-long party. Still others, because we get to watch Penn State football trounce Michigan State and kick back a few cold ones while they do. But what is Homecoming really about?
Is it the Day of Service? Or the Allen Street Jam, carnival, parade or tailgate competition?
This year, the Penn State Homecoming Committee wants Homecoming to be something more. The theme, Guide State Forward, focuses on our responsibility to the school that raised us and molded us. As the world around us becomes more technologically advanced and research seems to be moving forward a mile per second, it is our job to follow Penn State's tradition of progress and continue to guide it forward into a future of limitless possibilities.
But, before we can do that, we have to remember where we came from.
For the Glory of old State
For all its grandeur and prominence today, Penn State has humble roots. It was first created as the Farmers' High School in 1855. According to Professor Michael Milligan, a professor at Penn State who teaches a course about the school's history, "It was meant to be, primarily, a high school for Pennsylvanians with a focus on agriculture." It was later renamed the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania in 1862 and became the Pennsylvania State College in 1874. It wasn't until 1953 that the name was officially changed to The Pennsylvania State University.
Right from the get-go, Penn State was a pretty special place. It was a co-ed institution starting in the 1870s. In 1887, Penn State played their first football game against Bucknell—soundly claiming victory with a 54-0 final score—which kicked off one of Penn State's many great legacies: Nittany Lion football, something that has been uniting students, family, friends and all fellow Lions for over 130 years. Penn State's relatively isolated location brought students together, and it's vibrant spirit not only kept them together, but kept them coming back with each generation, starting the long history of legacy families.
For the future that we wait
While the initial focus of the school was agriculture, it wasn't just aimed at learning about farming and animal husbandry; it was about introducing new technology to push agriculture forward. During the 1860s, Penn State became a commonwealth land-grant institution that was chartered "for the purpose of bringing modern science to bear in making agriculture more productive and efficient," according to the university
In fact, Professor Milligan explained, it didn't stay an agricultural school for long. "From the 1890s onward, the largest school at Penn State was engineering. It's really more accurate to describe [Penn State] historically as an engineering school [as opposed to] an ag school."
Part of this evolution is due to the spread of industrialization; as more factories and machines were designed and built, the United States had a growing need for engineers, not farmers. By growing the engineering school to fill this national need, Penn State opened itself up for greater growth in the future.
On its journey to become the nationally- and internationally-known university—in research and dedication to progress —it is today, Penn State was itself shaped and molded by circumstance and the people who loved it, including three especially influential, "research-building" presidents: President George W. Atherton, President Milton Eisenhower and President Eric A. Walker.
It wasn't just the people who loved the school that pushed for progress. The national and international political theatre played a large role. After World War II, Penn State became increasingly involved in higher research, mostly defense research, thanks to generous federal grants. This only increased during and after the Cold War.
Perhaps the biggest push toward increasing research came in the late 1990s under President Spanier. During this time, many academic programs rose to greater success, and the Penn State and Dickinson School of Law merged.
From there, Penn State has only grown. Penn State currently ranks among the top 20 U.S. research institutions, right alongside institutions like MIT, Johns Hopkins, Princeton and Yale. It has over $800 million in annual research expenditures, and is one of only two institutions in the nation to be given land grant, sea grant, sun grant and space grant status.
Penn State has become a resource for entrepreneurs, startups and researchers, and has received top-rank positions in multiple programs, such as vocational and technical education, petroleum engineering, nuclear engineering, biological and agricultural engineering, developmental psychology, geology—tied for No.1—geochemistry and so many more.
Thou didst mold us, dear old State… Sing our love and loyalty
So, what does all this history teach us? And, what does it have to do with Homecoming?
It teaches us that Penn State is molded as much by us as we are by its traditions and values. Past students and presidents have helped Guide State Forward, and they have passed the baton to us. We are the ones who will take the values Penn State has instilled in us and use them as our grounding point when we push into an ever expanding world of knowledge, research and innovation. All this we do for the glory of old State, to celebrate where it started, what it has become and where it's going.
This Homecoming, remember Penn State's history and be amazed at how its people have shaped it. Remember that we are a part of something larger: the guiding spirit of Penn State.
WE ARE Nittany Lions. WE ARE one world-wide student body. WE ARE part of an unrivaled legacy of innovators and learners. WE ARE proud of the institution that has shaped us. WE ARE guiding State forward into an exciting and unknown world.
WE ARE Penn State.
For more information about this year's Homecoming, check out PSU Homecoming's official site and visit their participation page to learn how you can get involved. For updates, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Photos courtesy Penn State and Penn State University Libraries.