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Food, Travel, Design and the occassional wordiness

Rising Above. Living Penn State. Part 1 September 18, 2013


Let me start with making one thing clear. I love Penn State. And I do that because somewhere in the chemical web of my mind, I prize ‘sense of belonging’, ‘pride’ and ‘freedom’, not necessarily in that order. And Penn State (or my 2 stints of grad school there) gave me all that and more.

“More” includes my current romance (we can’t talk about the future but, it has been the most successful one so far. After all in 8 years, he went from my boyfriend to fiance to husband and now the to-be-dad of my to-be-baby). Penn State is where I adopted my dog-Brownie, my best friend and my soul-mate. In a lot of ways, Penn State saw more “firsts” than my hometown did–experiences like living on my own for the first time, earning my first salary, buying my first car, more importantly, buying my first “real” camera with my first salary! Not to mention, this was where I learned to live completely alone, continents away from family and friends who meant the world to me.

Penn State is where and how I outgrew them. And Calcutta. (Something I never in my prior life of 20 years, thought I could).

So to me, Penn State has always been more than football. It is my coming-of-age story. In fact, “football” triggers only the following imagery for me: chilly Saturdays warmed up in glorious sunshine and orange leaves, thronged with white-out sweatshirts and the delicious smell of tailgate. Yum.

So all the recent debacle of football over academics affected me much less than the average PSU undergrad or alum. What saddened me is the stupidity of the nation and the world that plays into the hands of media and lets it be our judge and jury. And the role of media in crucification of lives and beings, for ratings and ads. And that is true for every time you watch the news (about whatever) and form opinions based on it. @$$holes. Sorry.

And it saddened me some when JoePa died; he was, after all exactly my grandfather’s age and I miss my grandfather. And when Graham Spanier was fired from his role as President. I saw him perform with what I didn’t know was the Blue Band on the street, on a late Fall Friday afternoon in 2005, when I was waiting for the R-bus on College Ave. Whatever administrative faux pas and horrible acts of crimes were perpetrated, I am always mildly disturbed when my bubbles and pleasant imagery is played with. To me, Penn State was a place where the President played music with some old guys on the street. Penn State was Happy Valley.

So all that makes me a Penn State loyalist. I walk a block from my home in Huron Village, Cambridge and I see a black car with an alumni sticker on it, my first reaction is I wish I could leave a note–something in the lines of “me too”. See all I want to do is reach out to the Lion in you, not necessarily befriend you or go watch a game with you (seems like the only thing alumni do together, oh and network… blah!) I just want to say, hey I know where you spent a few years of your life, probably your greatest years. I know that you know what Happy Valley is. We drove and walked some of the same streets and now we are both doing the same again on Concord Avenue in Massachusetts. That’s it.

That is also part of why I went back to get my second Masters from Penn State. Not because it was “a great program”, “ranked xx by xx” but because it was home. And also because my husband was in the last year of his PhD there which meant we could finally live together and it could cost a lot less than trying to settle somewhere else and try to figure out logistics of marriage, jobs and school. Oh and an MBA would be nice. Because I had dreams.

I didn’t like Smeal (College of Business). In fact, I have/had no sense of belonging there; in my favorite Brand Management Professor’s words, I am not a Smeal-loyalist. I felt that being Smeal took away from being Penn State. (And the business school worked on it tenaciously, in order to create a brand for themselves, they forgot a brand they already had.) Even when I was there, every chance I got, I spent it in a non-Smeal, Penn State zone, mentally and physically. From formal training in stained-glass to failing miserably at wheel-thrown pottery, walking on campus, choosing Blue Spoon deli over Blue Chip or just visiting my old office in the Food Science building, chatting up my ex-advisor etc.

For the most part, I hated the MBA program. I loved the teachers, really LOVED, well most of them. I loved what they brought to the classroom. I enjoyed the overall energy, the pace and urgency like everyday we were going to war, the workload. I appreciated being in a group of people who were right-here-right-now like me.

But I really despised the in-your-face, kumbaya and coyingly sweet Kool-Aid. I hated the utter naivete and ignorance with which  the real world was talked about, especially by people who had obviously lived that world and frankly should know better! These weren’t 21 year olds! An average age of 26 with 5 years of work experience, demands a little more maturity (for lack of a better word), I thought.

I loved our Saturday evenings when friends got together in our tiny living room and played Uno and Poker and Mafia and other silly games, where romance/s flourished, +1s added and stress melted, all over bowls of salsa and chips. I liked the fake camaraderie too, to an extent, also the need to be “proper”, but I hated the forced need to belong, the constant policing and mostly, the need to define success the same way everyone else did, I really hated the lack of personalization. I hated living each others lives.

I hated being a statistic. I know I came in as a GMAT score, as a diversity factor (one of 2 in 23 Indian students, without a prior job in the software industry) and I left as a salary ($_xx,xxx within x months of graduation). Unlike my fellow international students, I wanted an MBA not just because my goal was to get a job and a life in America (I already had one that I thoroughly enjoyed). I wanted to learn persuasive but subtle advertising that would work for low-budget and no-budget non-profit causes; I wanted to drill into the consumer’s mind and make food (and other consumables) that spoke to them. I wanted to make (and sell in order to make more) art. I wanted to make more money. And of course I wanted to change the world. duh.

Funny thing? I did many of those things and I know I can do the rest in the future. I learned the lessons I wanted and needed to learn, picked the brains of my choice, chatted with people I wanted to connect to and changed my world. No regrets. What I wish though, is that they (the professors and mentors) talked a little more about fit and choice; that it was okay to pick and choose who you want to be, what you want to learn and how. Penn State was about freedom for me, remember? I just hope my Smeal educators practiced a little bit of that too.

There were questionnaires and research and discussions about how important personal values and fit was in happiness. Did you forget to teach the same to your career counselors? Or did you somewhere lose faith in what you preach? Because like the rest of the world you judge people by what they are and not who they are? Maybe you could take this cue to rising above the definitions we seem to want to live by. Title over role. Money over happiness. Size over value.

Rise above the title, package and size of the company and focus on what makes me give and get my best.

Rise above homogeneity. Rise above dogma. Rise above parameters and measurement and most of all, the need the measure. 

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