When I was elected vice president of the Penn State Alumni Association more than two years, I knew I had to begin preparing for the presidency. I had benefit of the example set by four outstanding presidents before me—Marianne Alexander, Lewis Gold, David Han, and Barry Simpson. Last year, I began shadowing Barry to many of the events over which he presided or spoke. This past July, I assumed the presidency with enthusiasm, ambition, and great humility. I thought I was well prepared for what lay ahead.
Then on Nov. 4, the world turned upside down. Like you, I was shocked, devastated, angered and worried at the news and its impact on our alma mater and our Alumni Association. The last four weeks have been a tumult far beyond what most of us have ever experienced, far beyond our imaginings. Like some of you, I wondered how we would respond and how we would move forward.
So, I thought I would share with you my journey, which was impacted by my return to Penn State for several events including the Nebraska game with my husband. As we walked to Beaver Stadium for the game, I noticed that the fans were a bit more reflective and somber. As the team took the field, they walked arm in arm. The players and coaches from both teams met in the middle of the field and knelt down to pray. Then came the playing of our alma mater, and the tears flowed like water.
That coming together, that communal grieving, was the beginning of my healing. Four weeks later, I realize it will take a long time to be completed. But that day, I realized that the true strength of this University comes from the collective power of our alumni, friends, students, faculty and staff. It does not come from one person and cannot, and will not, be taken away by a few people. Our collective power is what will move our alma mater forward.
As this crisis has unfolded, I have witnessed first hand the professionalism and talent of the Penn State Alumni Association. Their ability to tell this story as it is unfolding in a truthful and balanced way has filled me with gratitude and pride. My pride in everything this remarkable staff is doing is as strong as my love of Penn State.
So we look forward with sympathy for the victims and with a determination to improve the checks and balances within our University so that something like this never happens again. I am now focused on our need to unify and work together to reposition Penn State in the public eye—as a world-class university that is built unshakably on a foundation of integrity and quality. We know that to be true. We know that this horrible tragedy is an aberration in the long, storied history of a great University.
And we need to proudly show our true colors. We need to remind the world that Penn State is among the very best universities on the face of the earth—with 557,000 alumni who have won Nobel prizes, Olympic Medals and Academy Awards; who run the nation’s top corporations and thousands of other businesses; who fly in outer space as astronauts and inner space as nanoscientists and engineers; who teach our nation’s children; who work as great physicians, lawyers and judges; and who make a difference in every field of human endeavor—and still find time to serve their communities as volunteers.
We know who we are. I am Penn State, you are Penn State, and we are Penn State. Together, we will move through this unprecedented crisis, support our alma mater as it corrects the problems and return our focus to our noble land-grant university heritage of global leadership in teaching, research and service.
For the Future,
Katie Smarilli ’71
President, Penn State Alumni Association