I am about to confess something I never thought I would utter, but I now say with distinct pride: I am, at last, a Wahoo.
You see, I’ve never been good at flinging allegiances around. Once I settle on something with which I firmly identify, I tend to stick with it. This is probably not the world’s greatest trait: It likely means I’m stubborn and stuck in my ways — although I suppose I get props for loyalty, for what that’s worth.
I graduated from Penn State, a school long known (in a good way) for its football legacy; now, unfortunately, not so much. I could give a care about football: Watching a bunch of pampered, overfed behemoths trying to clobber each other on Astroturf just doesn’t do it for me. But the pomp, the circumstances, the school spirit attendant with college football, well, that, I admit, I fell for hook, line and sinker. I was a sucker for all that schmaltz.
So I was always a pennant-waving, Nittany-Lion-paw-painted-on-my-cheek, blindly ardent supportive Penn Stater (despite that niggling not-liking-football detail). I donned my blue and white PSU gear each Saturday during football season. I faithfully attended tailgate parties throughout my college career (well, er, that might have had less to do with my fidelity and more to do with my always loving a good party). I even got teary-eyed with the stadium-wide singing of our irreverent alma mater (“We don’t know, the g-d words”) at each game.
So it was a particular shock to the system last November to learn the horrific details about what had been going on behind closed doors for decades at my alma mater, perpetrated by the monstrous, predatory pedophile Jerry Sandusky. Upon learning of the complicit refusal to expose the truth by leaders at Penn State who should’ve done so, I found it hard to reconcile my morality with my embrace of this nebulous group, what with the dark, nefarious history that had permeated it.
As I wrestled with this sort of groupspeak identity crisis, it helped me to better understand how hard it is for some people to shun their own fervent beliefs, be they political, religious or whatever, in the face of undeniable truths. Because in so doing, you are assailing your very identity, shunning that with which you have associated yourself on so many levels.
For instance, I, as a lapsed Catholic, struggle to understand how others have chosen to close their eyes to the truths of what has happened within my church, with the leadership behaving in much the same way as did those at Penn State who remained mum. But I also get it: Disaffiliating yourself from the larger group, shunning the cohesion you’ve had with others through a shared experience, doesn’t seem like the answer.
Ultimately I felt cemented in my bond with my fellow Penn Staters in the days that followed the grim revelations about Sandusky’s abusive reign — at least after the irrational street-rioting by students subsided — when collectively people came together to acknowledge the bad and to soldier on to seek some good in it all, to recognize that while within this larger community a deep evil lurked, it didn’t and shouldn’t taint the community as a whole.
I understood that I could remain loyal to Penn State despite all that has gone wrong there because it is so much greater than a very bad man who did very bad things and so much greater a small contingent of people in charge who allowed him to do so by their silence. The larger sense of community with Penn State defies that any small part of the group can commandeer it and tear it asunder.
And so it is with some irony that, thanks to the tumultuous discord within the ranks at the University of Virginia, I have finally become a flag-waving Hoo, after living here for 15 years and never quite feeling like I had any part of it. I guess it just it felt wrong to ally myself with the whole UVa thing when Penn State was my school. Plus, for the life of me I couldn’t figure out the end of “The Good Old Song,” not to mention that orange just isn’t my color.
But thanks to that little event a few weeks ago, when a small delegation of UVa’s Board of Visitors — ostensibly acting in the best interest of the university — decided to act well beyond the boundaries of what was morally right, the gauntlet was thrown down for me to become a part of the UVa community, albeit better late than never.
I’m sure this was helped along by the fact that I have a child set to attend the school this fall; finally I had some skin in the game. But my moral outrage allowed me to jump readily into the fray, to become a concerned participant without having been connected to the place by attendance, employment or anything else other than simply being outraged by the board’s actions and the intended direction the school seemed fated to go as a result of those actions.
I took a very active interest in rallying people to this cause, attending rallies, ginning up support whenever and wherever I could. And I took comfort as the university remained helmed by the most gracious President Teresa Sullivan, who led by example with quiet dignity and aplomb.
Watching people from such different walks of life coming together to unite to fight for the greater good at UVa was such a gratifying experience, I couldn’t help but feel a part of it. Gathered with thousands of others as Terry Sullivan parted the sea of supporters on the Lawn en route to the Rotunda like a rock star amidst the roar of supportive Hoos, well, it was an experience I won’t soon forget. It bonded me to the school like no football game ever could.
And it showed me that I don’t have to have graduated from UVa to be a Hoo. I just have to give a care. And I do. I finally grasped that loyalty to my alma mater doesn’t exclude loyalty to another such institution (although for whom to cheer at the UVa Penn State game is yet to be determined).
I, too, it seems, am a Wahoo. Not by matriculation, but by association. And I can now say I am one proudly.
Hoo gives a care? Well, I do, apparently.