Penn State Traditions: Then & Now

Photo by Kate Perkins

We are a university full of traditions. We take pride in our past by paying tribute, like our football players in their basic blues. This year’s 95th annual Penn State homecoming reflected that idea perfectly with the theme: “A Legacy to Shape the Future.” Valley thought it was time to pay our own tribute to the legacies of the past and reflect on how much they have shaped our campus traditions today. We sat down with a group of Penn State alums from our parents’ generation and reminisced about the glory days at PSU.

Our first tradition was short, but sweet: the grilled sticky. While some students are still familiar with these tiny taste miracles, many are unaware of the classic Penn State treat. What is a grilled sticky?

“It is basically a simple method of delivering the most satisfying food cravings a body can have involving sweetness and fat,” says Mark Perkins, Penn State parent class of ‘83. “They are best when heated up with butter, thus enhancing the fat element, and some say even better when a topping of ice cream is included, thus enhancing the sweet element.  I know that grilled stickies have no redeeming health or nutritional value . . . but they are so goooooood.”

The grilled sticky is currently served downtown at Ye Olde College Diner, which was such a popular destination in the 80s that for a time, they remained open 24 hours a day and actually removed the doors from their hinges. The closest thing to the sticky craze today is perhaps students’ love of West Hall cookies. If only Waring commons was open 24/7.

Next, we talked with our history buffs about being in the buff. While the Mifflin Streak reportedly started in 1977, like good parents, all of our interviewees strongly denied participating in the event. However, casual streaking was definitely a thing back then.

“Once in my Biology class in the Forum, a guy streaked naked across the stage,” says Andrea Phillips, class of 1980. “And the professor just kept right on going with his lecture as if it was normal!” Technically biology includes the study of human anatomy, so we can chalk that one up as a learning experience.

Moving on… our next topic was concerts. During the 70s, a group of students created Gentle Thursday as a way to ease campus tensions that had built up over Vietnam War protests.

“[It was a] festival with live music on the HUB lawn,” says Deb Phillips, class of 1977. “A little bit of Woodstock in Happy Valley, and it was a well-run event.”

While Moving On actually started during our parents’ time here, today’s concert has grown larger and more similar to the music festival atmosphere of their Gentle Thursday.

Another fun event that was gone before we knew it was the Phi Si 500. It was a charity race created by the brothers of the Phi Kappa Si fraternity where, “dressed up teams would race from bar to bar and throngs [of onlookers] along the race path would drink and cheer them on,” says Phillips. “Participants ran a course through town that equaled maybe a mile or so,” says Perkins, “and on the way they stopped at designated bars along the route and had to chug a beer before proceeding.”

Like a crazy combination of today’s homecoming parade, State Patty’s Day, and Halloween all rolled into one, it was too good to last.

“It was a way for underage students to chug beer openly and freely. Hence the popularity… and probably why it got banned eventually,” says Perkins.

This event is worth Googling though. Be warned, some of the costumes, while creative, were definitely crude.

On a more wholesome note, campus figures like the Willard Preacher were a part of our parents’ day to day lives too. In the 80s, “there was a preacher camped out at Willard building every day,” says Perkins. “I seem to remember Ro [Katrak, class of ‘83] having sat down with the guy once and had a conversation him – found out he was pretty down to earth.” That preacher’s name was Bro Cope, and he lead the way for our very own Willard Preacher today.

Our final tradition revolves around one thing that parents and students can still enjoy together – Penn State football. With the expansion of our stadium and its high tech sound systems, undergrads today love to sing along to our fight songs and add their own personal lyrics and cheers. Alums from the 80s were no different.

“We want the lion!’ was a lot bigger when we were in school,” says Rick Woods, class of ’83. “Although back then the end zones weren’t filled in, so when he neared the top of the student section we’d chant ‘Over the top! Over the top!’ like we were going to pass him over the wall.”

“And when the alma mater played we would all sing, ‘we don’t know the goddamn words,” says Dan Murphy, Penn State parent class of ’83.

“Glad that got cleaned up,” says Phillips.

Today’s students raise the song in honor of our founders, as strong and as great as they were young and crazy. While time and technology have pushed this university into a new era of growth, we wouldn’t be the school we are today without the generation of passionate students that came before us. No matter what changes occur here, our traditions tie us together. For that, we are and will always be Penn State.



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