The Washington Post

How Penn State made me lose faith in my parents' generation

Nov 14, 2011

"I'm 31, an Iraq war veteran, a Penn State graduate, a Catholic, a native of State College, acquaintance of Jerry Sandusky's, and a product of his Second Mile foundation.

And I have fully lost faith in the leadership of my parents' generation."

Thomas Day, the author of Penn State, my final loss of faith, chatted with readers Monday at 1:45 p.m. ET.

Thank you for joining me.  Before I go any further, let me state from the onset that I do have a great deal of respect for my parents’ generation.  That may be difficult to believe, given what I wrote this past week.  My parents’ generation stood up and demanded that African Americans be given equal rights as citizens.  They defeated the Soviet Union.  I worked for David Petraeus when I was in the Army – I know my parents’ generation has leaders.  My op-ed was a product of a very emotional week, certainly.  I stand by my disappointment with my national leaders and the local leaders of Central Pennsylvania, but I want to make clear that I did not intend to “blame an entire generation.”

I just wanted to start a conversation.  So let’s have it…

Dr. Jack Raykovitz, CEO of the Second Mile Foundation (SMF) for the past 28 years resigned over the weekend in light of the sex scandal. As developments continue to be made, what so you think could be done now for our future generation when thinking specifically about the SMF? Do you think the foundation can survive this scandal?

Jack is a friend of mine. I've known Jack for 15 years. In time, we will know how he acted in this matter. I support his decision to resign from the Foundation so we can begin to rebuild the Second Mile (perhaps even by renaming it to avoid association with Sandusky).  I will reserve judgement on Jack until I know all the facts, but let me state clearly that I believe the mission of the Second Mile must continue.  It serves too many kids to be abandoned.


Hi Thomas! No question, just a sincere THANK YOU for voicing what I struggle to put words to, my own disappointment with my parent's generation's selfish lack of forward thinking in regard to anything but THEMSELVES.

In time, our generation will take the wheel.  We must do better than our parents. That's a mandate we all carry as leaders of our country and our communities.  People of my generation must remember what our parents succeeded in doing, and what they failed at doing.  Right now, our parents generation is failing in leadership in Washington -- I don't think many people would dispute that, given Congress' current approval rating. 

Whom do you see as a leader currently, from your generation, as well as your parents'? With respect and appreciation for your passionate piece, (Rabbi) Elizabeth Bolton Baltimore, MD

I think President Obama is a strong leader. I think he was been given a very difficult task, and he certainly made mistakes in the beginning, as is documented in Ron Suskind's book.  However President Obama would not have passed health care reform, Dodd-Frank, and killed Osama Bin Laden if he didn't have leadership qualities. As for my generation, we shall see. We have been through a lot.  Mine is the 9/11 generation, and I think we are defined by the events of the past ten years. 

I appreciate your outrage but I am baffled by why you are fed up with people of a certain age and strangely proud of people who are your age. At Penn State, the eyewitness was 28 -- a grownup -- and totally failed. The man he went to was in his mid 80s, and totally failed in the same way. What kind of evidence is that to suggest that 20 and 30somethings are great leaders and 80somethings are losers? Blaming everything on "them" -- a racial group, a gender, an age group -- is such a cheap way to deflect responsibility. Why not admit that people of all ages at Penn State just failed?

Mike McQuery's actions look indefensible, but I don't know how I would have reacted if I saw a 10-year-old boy being assaulted like that.  I know I wouldn't have reacted with a clear head.  In time, we will know more about his response to what he witnessed.  As I mentioned in the beginning, if any reader took away that I was "blaming a generation" for current failures, I apologize.  I will say this: It is up to all of us to demand, from the grassroots, that our leaders lead.  A current example: We should demand that the "Supercommittee" come to an agreement that exceeds the mandate set out by the debt deal of the summer.  This is a great opportunity for leadership in Washington, and I fear these leaders are once again going to blow it.

I fear this indeed may be a generational issue. Football at college was a fraternity; the coaches and players revered. Schools allowed athletes to not attend classes, bend academic rules, bend campus infractions, get local police to brush things under the table. That was expected on some campuses. I fear that may have happened at Penn State: the matter was handled internally. Reports were made, a campus ban on Sandusky was instituted, and I believed that is as far as it went. Today, that is unacceptable. Maybe the old generation can learn something from the new.

I have followed Penn State football about as closely as one human being could follow anything since I was 8 years old.  It is in my blood.  However, I am becoming a bit more introspective about my near-obsession with this team.  These guys are 18-22 years old.  They aren't getting paid anything near what the market demands for their services.  They are, in many ways, kids.  Why is a grown man logging onto to see where a 17-year-old is going to college?  I think this story should cause all college football fans to take a step back, myself included. 

Mr. Day, do you think that tha NCAA will investigate and/or impose any type of penatly against the football program at Penn State for violating ethics/rules as a Division 1 status? Should they?

I don't know if this is punishable by the NCAA rules.  Honestly, how terrible is that?

How can we encourage more of your generation to stand up and be counted? We need you!

Oh we're being counted. Hear this: In 2004, John Kerry beat George Bush by 7 points among first time voters -- not enough to give him the White House.  In 2008, Barack Obama won the first-time voting bloc by 40 points, and now he's president.  When young people are active, they drive change. 

Seriously, if there's an entire generation to be maligned it's the college kids who rioted on campus after they learned that Paterno was fired. The older generation simply did what people have always done -- put their own self interests ahead of anyone else's. The students, on the other hand, had no such skin in the game. They could have done the honorable thing and shown respect for those raped children and instead shamefully carried on about football.

I don't disagree with you on the riot charge. That was an embarassing spectacle for all Penn Staters.  We are consistently ranked as one of the top 50 national universities, but you wouldn't know it given the kids who tip that news truck over.

Thomas, do you see anything that can be done - on a variety of fronts - that could possibly restore confidence, or at least SOME confidence, in the previous generation? We should all be about forgiveness, but the past few months have really put that belief to the test...

YES I DO! There is so much to be done in Washington -- immigration reform, reforming our entitlements, cleaning our environment, putting people back to work -- and my parents' generation could make their mark as the one that kept America on top for good, if they only acted.  Listen, I'm 31 and in graduate school.  Very few people in my generation are in positions where we can directly make change.  All we can do is mobilize for those who are in positions of power.  But we need faith that they will act, and carry themselves with integrity (John Edwards).  That's the point I wanted to make with my op-ed.

I work in higher education, and I'm curious to know how you think PSU can reach out to their alums, current students, etc. I believe that there is a lot of crisis communication lessons that could be learned from this, and would like to know your take. (I personally think they should reach out to you! Your piece was amazing)

I can't believe I'm about to say this: I don't care if Penn State goes 0-12 next year.  I want a head coach who will restore the good name of Penn State.  If someone like Urban Meyer is not up for the task of rebuilding our name off the field, I don't want him at Penn State.  The same goes for the man or woman who replaces President Graham Spanier.  Penn State is a good community. It's a good school, and in spite of the spectacle of last Wednesday, its students are among the brightest young folks you'll meet.  I want new leaders who will make sure the rest of the world knows the Penn State I know.

I'm roughly the same age and couldn't agree more with your comments. As I've become more enlightened about national and world events (largely since graduation undergrad in 2000 and then through my own graduate studies in public policy), I've become convinced that the Baby Boomers have failed us. They have delivered relatively little, especially when one considers their "demands" on our systems. As someone who likes to think of themselves as an emerging leader, what do you recommend about how we can assert ourselves more into the leadership conversation?

I worry that the Republican majority is denying President Obama's domestic agenda because they have taken the strategy that the economic situation will be blamed on him, thus denying his agenda will be the only way to ensure he doesn't get a second term.  I wonder if the Democrats denied President Bush a victory in 2006 with his immigration reform proposal.  This is the problem with our politics, and this is what we need to fix, both the current generation of leaders and the incoming one. We need to demand that our leaders in Washington act in our interests, not the interests of their party or their "base."

Hi Thomas, Great article!! You summed up the feelings of not only a good portion of your generation, but also of mine. I am 42 and have felt disgusted with the way our country has been misled and with the moral corruption of the Catholic Church and now this horrific situation at Penn State. Something needs to change, and we need more folks like you to raise your voices. Maybe you should run for President!

I finish up grad school in June.  How about I get a job first, then run for the White House?

You have some misinformation in your article. The tax cuts actually increased revenues to the treasury. They were not 'glutinous.' It's the spending in DC that was the problem.

With inflation and population growth, revenues almost always increase from year to year.  I don't disagree with you on the spending.  We need to reform programs like Medicaid and Medicare, but we also need a balanced discussion on taxes, particularly on taxation of the highest earners.

Thank you for joining me. I have to run to class.  Have a great day, and BEAT OHIO STATE!!!!

In This Chat
Thomas Day
Thomas L. Day is a master's candidate at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy. He recently published an op-ed titled, "Penn State: My Final Loss of Faith," about the school's recent sex scandal and how the story fits into the larger issue of national leadership. Day is an Iraq war veteran, and a Penn State graduate. He has also done an assignment in Afghanistan as a bureau reporter for McClatchy.
Recent Chats
  • Next: