Candles try to brighten a dark week at Penn State
November 12, 2011
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Candles, not police lights, lit Penn State’s campus on Friday night as thousands of students and supporters gathered to show support for the victims in a child sex abuse scandal roiling one of the nation’s largest universities.
The vigil was organized by students in the wake of a shocking grand jury report that accuses a retired assistant football coach of repeatedly sexually assaulting boys, sometimes at university facilities. It suggested that school officials didn’t aggressively investigate or report the activity.
As a result, university trustees forced out the school’s president, Graham Spanier. They also fired storied football coach Joe Paterno, which touched off a violent student demonstration on campus Wednesday night, requiring police clad in riot gear to disperse the students, at times with pepper spray.
The vigil in front of Penn State’s “Old Main” administration building drew students, alumni and teachers. They observed a moment of silence after the bell tolled at 10 p.m. and listened to several speakers, including former college All-American linebacker LaVar Arrington, an a cappella group singing “Imagine” and the school marching band.
It was largely solemn until it ended with an ear-shattering series of “We are … Penn State!” — helping a group of people who felt like they had lost a hero — Paterno — to have something to rally around.
“Having that taken away from us made us feel lost,” said junior Leah Blasko of Pittsburgh. “Tonight really gave us a place to put ourselves back together.”
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One speaker, 2007 graduate Dustin Yenser, encouraged victims to know that they had the support of the campus despite having been failed by people who he believed had an obligation to protect them. And Arrington urged attendees to use the scandal as a challenge.
“Let it be known that we waged war to make a difference,” Arrington said. “Leave here tonight with a resolve and an understanding that you possess the power to change things.”
The seeds of the student-organized vigil began even before the Wednesday night violence. Penn State senior and organizer Jessica Sever said she read the grand jury report Monday night and woke up disgusted, feeling as though something needed to be done and wanting to put the focus back on the victims, not Spanier or Paterno.
“What I really want to focus on is the victims right now,” Sever said. “We really need some positivity, because there is none right here.”