July 2016

We Are … Now More Than Ever

Photo by Victoria Indivero

“We are … ” is a phrase synonymous with Penn State, perhaps more now than ever before. We are … home to ground-breaking research. We are … a place of diversity. We are … leaders in the world and in local communities. We are … proud of all that Penn State is. The Class of 2013’s gift of a three-dimensional “We are” sculpture on the University Park campus is the 120th Penn State class gift.

The sculpture will spell out “We Are” in giant letters, and the words of the Penn State Alma Mater will be inscribed across them in the original handwriting of Fred Lewis Pattee, professor of American literature and the 1901 author of the alma mater. The inscription on the sculpture will serve as a visual representation of what it truly means to be a Penn Stater, according to Morgan Delaware, overall chair of the 2013 Senior Class Gift Committee. The gift selection was announced on Oct. 24 after 1,700 seniors cast their ballots, in person and online, to vote for one of three gift proposals.

The class gift is a tradition that dates back more than 120 years, but the gifts themselves and how they’re given has changed over time. Early classes often presented a gift at a later reunion. In more recent decades, classes decide on a gift and solicit donations in the months leading up to graduation. Nowadays, seniors generally contribute to class gifts by pledging all or a portion of their remaining general deposit, the $100 Penn State holds during a student’s enrollment to cover unforeseen expenses, fees and emergency costs.

In May 2011, AlumnInsider ran a story that gave detailed information about several gifts from Penn State’s graduating classes over the past 122 years, called “Class Gifts: The Beloved, Bizarre and Bulldozed.” Many of the gifts have now become well-cherished landmarks on campus, including the Nittany Lion, a gift from the Class of 1940. The statue, which cost approximately $5,000 when Heinz Warneke chiseled it out of a 13-ton block of limestone, narrowly won the senior class vote, 243225, over the other proposed class gift of a scholarship. The Lion was dedicated at Homecoming in 1942. It’s the most recognized and most photographed spot on the University Park campus, and the second-most photographed spot in Pennsylvania, after the Liberty Bell.

“The Wall,” which runs in front of Old Main Lawn on the campus side of College Avenue, was a gift of the Class of 1915. For many years, sitting on the wall was a privilege reserved for seniors only. But that custom, along with “dinks” and other forms of reminding underclassmen of their lower status, faded in the late 1960s. “The Main Gates,” just a little further down and across from Allen Street, was given by the Class of 1916. The first stone pillars that stood at that site were purchased from the 1904 St. Louis Expo.

While such timeless spots might be the first images in the mind’s eye of a Penn Stater who has walked the University Park campus for four or more years, other class gifts deserve recognition and remembering—including many from more recent years. A year ago, the Class of 2012 announced its gift of beautification to the Nittany Lion Shrine, and on Nov. 16, the Office of Physical Plant presented its specific design to the Board of Trustees. Plans include adding an accessible ramp, stairs and new sidewalks; using stone from Mount Nittany to fix the base of the sculpture, provide informal seating and support the accessible ramp; adding stone stairs to provide a multi-level platform for large group photography; and installing more efficient LED lighting to improve security and enhance nighttime photography. An interpretive sign will describe the origin—Penn State third baseman Joe Mason’s impromptu recommendation of the “dignified, courageous, magnificent … Nittany Mountain Lion” as the University’s mascot—and the design and sculpture by Warneke.

Just steps off of Eisenhower Road and the Pugh Street mall, a sweeping white arc now graces the lawn near Old Main, a daily reminder of the sacrifices U.S. veterans have made in support of America’s freedom. The newly dedicated Lt. Michael P. Murphy Penn State Veteran’s Plaza, a gift of the Class of 2011, is named for the 1998 graduate who is the only Penn State alumnus to earn the Medal of Honor.

Below are a few other class gifts from recent years and further back in the decades. Some may be lesser known, but all are valuable and have helped to keep Penn State enriched and ever beautiful.

2010: Marsh Meadow Boardwalk and Overlook at the Arboretum

2003: The HUB-Robeson Murals

1999: HUB Aquariums—The Living Classroom

1997: Peace Garden

1993: Valerie Christein Urgent Care Unit in Ritenour Building

1980: Ag Arena Fund

1946: Funds toward completion of Old Main Frescoes

1945: HUB Construction Fund

1932: Mural project in Old Main (Land Grant Frescoes)

The very first class gift remains. In 1890, the Class of 1861 gathered for a reunion and presented a portrait of Penn State’s first president, Evan Pugh. Nearly 120 years later, today’s students and alumni can see that first class gift in the lobby of Old Main.

What did your class give to Penn State? Click here to find out and take a walk through the decades of class gifts.