At Penn State candlelight vigil, a search for solace

STATE COLLEGE, Pa Sat Nov 12, 2011 12:46am EST

1 of 3. Penn State students hold candles during a candlelight vigil to show their support for sexual abuse victims involved in the recent controversy in State College, Pennsylvania November 11, 2011.

Related Topics


Under the Iron Dome

Sirens sound as rockets land deep inside Israel.  Slideshow 

STATE COLLEGE, Pa (Reuters) - Ever since charges of child sex abuse against Jerry Sandusky tore a giant hole in Penn State's heart, students, alumni and staff have grappled with how they could heal.

It is not easy, after the horrific crimes Sandusky is alleged to have committed came to light a week ago.

Nearly 10,000 came to the university's Old Main hall on Friday night, braving the frigid mountain air to try and begin that healing process. Trying to smother the hate that has engulfed this sleepy Pennsylvania town.

Dustin Yenser, a 2007 Penn State graduate who now teaches middle school, spoke with raw emotion to the crowd of the pain he sees his university going through.

"We are Penn State, and we are hurt, and we are sorry," Yenser said, his voice cracking and tears dripping onto his face. "The only thing that matters now is that we are here for the victims."

Yenser and other speakers said the school must move forward, but never forget.

Prominent Penn State names such as former President Graham Spanier, Assistant Coach Mike McQueary, Athletic Director Tim Curley, finance official Gary Schultz and even legendary football coach Joe Paterno were not spoken. Some of these men had once been treated as near-deities, but all have been brought down by the scandal in the last week.

Determination, perseverance and charity were instead the champions of the night.

Students, some in shorts and sandals and others donning wool hats and parkas, stood solemnly in front of the old building clasping candles, sometimes repeating with thunderclap the school's iconic chant: "We Are Penn State."

They listened as one speaker told of her own experience being sexually abused as a child.

Another said Penn State must continue its history of supporting charities, including one that funds children's cancer research.

Another painfully noted that Sandusky had deprived his victims of their innocence.

As an a cappella group sang John Lennon's "Imagine," a sea of bright candlelight engulfed the crowd and many hummed along.

Lavar Arrington, who played football at Penn State and in the National Football League, spoke of how the Sandusky allegations are a challenge the university must rise above.

"The worst crime for all of us would be to leave here and forget what happened," Arrington said. "This is our call to duty."

The vigil, he told those assembled, is the start of a new story for Penn State.

"It's on us to renew the pride of Penn State," he said. "I'm not going to take that fight lying down."

TJ Bard, the president of the undergraduate student body, said the vigil represented hope, not only for the victims, but for the battered school.

"We cannot let the actions of a few define us," he said. "May we fight until no child is harmed again."

As Bard finished his speech, the Old Main clock tower began to chime for the 10 p.m. hour.

The crowd stood in silence.

Quietly, with respect, the university's marching bad played, "Alma Mater," the school song.

The 110-year-old lyrics eerily warn someone like Sandusky should never be tolerated, a fact that did not go unnoticed as the crowd audibly grew louder for the line: "May no act of ours bring shame."

It was, Alex Kolker said, a vigil to show the world Penn State supports the victims and is much more than just football.

"This is definitely a start in the healing process," said Kolker, a junior.

The vigil ended with an a capella performance of Coldplay's "Fix You," a somber song that speaks of hope despite loss, aptly describing the mood on this campus.

"Tears stream down your face," the a capella group sang, with the crowd joining along in unison. "I promise you I'll learn from my mistakes."

(Reporting and Writing by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Greg McCune)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (3)
gotcha42307 wrote:
This is the first story I’ve read that made me feel good about Penn State.

Nov 12, 2011 3:02am EST  --  Report as abuse
mike35 wrote:
No question the true victims in the Penn State scandal are the abused children. But the athletes, students, alumni, and professors are also being punished by the media by the endless bashing of everything Penn State. They act as if the whole school is at fault for the abuse and cover-up. Some idiots in the media are calling for Penn State to forfeit its season, which would only make the athletes and fans victims. Why should they all be punished? Haven’t they been punished enough by the reputation hit to the school.

No, today’s game and the season must go on. Penn State is more than the despicable actions of the few people involved in this. The candlelight vigil held last night began the healing process, and today’s Blue-Out game is to honor the victims (instead of the normal White-Out attire) and is simply the next step in the healing process. So far the student body has raised over $200,000 for child abuse prevention and that number will only continue to rise.

Kudos to the students for rising above the scandal and doing the right things to begin healing the school. We are…Penn State.

Nov 12, 2011 10:59am EST  --  Report as abuse
CtzCain wrote:
This is typical self-aggrandizing garbage. The community is hurt and holds a candle-light vigil? For who, themselves because they feel hurt? Give me a break and get on with it. The guy was a child-rapist and the school covered it up. It’s sad when more people seem to care about PSU’s immorality than the fact that the US can’t pass a decent budget or make itself competitive in international markets.

Nov 12, 2011 11:46am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.