Penn State students are confused, but they're not the bad guys

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In the span of a week, I've seen my university go from one of the nation's most respected institutions to an embarrassment; from a school that prides itself on "success with honor" to a model for what not to do.

It's a travesty, and as a Penn State student, I've never been more confused in my life.

Our leaders have allegedly stood by and let some of the most heinous acts imaginable continue unabated. Until the truth comes out -- and I desperately hope it will -- we can only speculate and believe what we read. We can only sit and squirm with disgust and anger.

Like many Penn State students, I'm embarrassed and shocked. I simply cannot believe what has happened here. I don't understand why Jerry Sandusky would do what he allegedly did to innocent children. I can't wrap my head around why so many high-ranking people with great influence did next to nothing to stop a monster.

And I can't figure out why my fellow students and I have received such ridicule.

We've been shown on TV flipping vans and pulling down light posts. We've been accused of having no compassion for Sandusky's victims. We've been said to care about nothing but our football Saturdays and our legendary coach.

I assure you we are none of these things.

There are nearly 40,000 students here at Penn State, and I estimate that around 40 were wreaking havoc on our campus last Wednesday night in the wake of Joe Paterno's firing. The rest of us simply didn't know how to cope with such heartbreak, so we took to the streets in search of others who felt the same way. We needed the company of those who could relate.

Frankly, nobody outside of this community can really understand. We've seen the man we grew up idolizing -- the man who had been around longer than our parents and given his life to enriching this university -- ousted with a phone call.

Paterno made serious, terrible mistakes -- but until last week we all thought he was a great man. If he could have done more to stop Sandusky, then shame on him for failing to. He should have known better. That doesn't mean it's easy for us to let go of all the history.

Each day we study in the library Paterno donated millions to see built so that Penn State students could leave this school better prepared to face the world. A man with his reputation and aura of greatness should have known better. But a man only develops that reputation after touching countless lives.

And so we took to the streets. We're still young, emotional, at times irrational. We sometimes forgot who had really been hurt in this case: the victims.

And that can't happen. It may take years for our school to regain its reputation, but the scars those children have may last forever. Our feelings might change with each new development -- sometimes I can put myself in Mike McQueary's shoes; other times I condemn him for being so selfish -- but the one unwavering feeling I have is remorse for the children.

During the Nov. 11 candle light vigil on the lawn in front of Old Main, I realized I wasn't the only one who felt that way.

The sea of light dimly lit our exhausted faces as we huddled against the wind in the darkness. My toes felt like ice cubes, but I felt warmth inside of me that had been missing for days. For the first time since the scandal broke, I was neither embarrassed nor angry. I felt hope. I felt pride. I felt things would eventually be OK.

We may not yet know the full truth when it comes to McQueary, Paterno, Sandusky and others, but there are a few truths I do know.

We are dedicated. We are intelligent. We are caring.

And we are still Penn State.