I’m occasionally invited to things—luncheons, receptions, dinners, and so on—because I’m the “Arts Fest guy”. A guy needs to eat and I like rubber chicken as much as the next guy, so if my schedule allows, I typically say yes. The most recent invitation I received wasn’t for a chicken dinner, it was for breakfast…with incoming freshmen at Penn State. I was invited to be a part of the Schreyer Honors College Orientation.
Schreyer Honors College (SHC) is an honors program within the mammoth institution that is Penn State. Schreyer students have access to honors courses, top flight research projects and have the option to live in a community within the university. They also complete an honors thesis before graduating. In addition to all of that, they’re still Penn Staters—enjoying and participating in the greater (or lesser, depending on your point of view) student and community life here in Happy Valley.
The college is named for William and Joan Schreyer. Mr. Schreyer, Penn State ’48, was a CEO of Merrill Lynch back in the years when it was affectionately known as “Mother Merrill” rather than just the division of Bank of America that it is today. Joan Schreyer, who still sits on the SHC’s advisory board, was made an honorary Penn State alum in 1991. The Schreyers are among Penn State’s most generous benefactors, providing a total of $55 million to endow Schreyer Honors College.
So, on August 21, I found myself at Redifer Dining Commons between 8:00 and 8:15 to meet my guide and enjoy breakfast with this new batch of Penn State frosh. Dress was to be business casual, which to me meant navy shorts, a white oxford, freshly laundered and pressed by Balfurd cleaners, and blue Vans. When I was a kid, I’d thought I’d wear a suit and carry a briefcase to the office, just like my father and grandfather. You see how that turned out!
I was met in the Redifer lobby by Michael and Natalie, the event chairs, and introduced to Joelle, my personal guide for the event. She navigated me through the breakfast line, which was a bit more like the Observatory Hill Dining Hall at UVa circa 1975 than I expected it would be. I suppose I’m a bit jaded in that the last breakfast buffet I did was at Wynn Las Vegas—something I’ve repeatedly described as a culinary “religious experience”.
After picking out our breakfasts–oatmeal, coffee, and juice for me, dining hall scrambled eggs for Joelle–we sat down and were joined by a table of bright-eyed Schreyer students. They were from all across the state (and as far away as Charlotte, NC) and had quite a variety of academic interests. Interestingly enough, I didn’t meet anyone who wanted to become a lawyer…not a bad thing in our over-lawyered society. To a person all of the kids had great social skills, interesting lives, and were engaged in the world around them. I was especially delighted to see that for the length of our breakfast at least, the people at our table were more captivating than what was on anyone’s cell phone.
After we’d finished breakfast, the other townie guests and I were called to the front of the room where we introduced ourselves. In addition to yours truly, the assistant police chief was there, along with people from Schlow Centre Region Library, the Red Cross, Mt. Nittany Conservancy, Discovery Space, not to mention Todd Miner, from Lion Chariot, the local pedicab service, which he referred to as “transpotainment”. You learn new words when you hang with honors students!
Afterward there was time dedicated to speed networking (think speed dating with less emotional involvement). It’s not even one iota of hyperbole to say that all the kids I met could be in an advertisement for Penn State.
After the speed networking, State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham presented Schreyer’s Dean, Christian Brady, with the key to the Borough. When the ceremony was over, organizers gave the townies swag bags as the students went on to their next orientation activity.
And so, another academic year at Penn State has started. In other words, it’s only 327 days until the 50th Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. I’d better plan something great—all my new friends at Schreyer promised to come.