Penn State, my final loss of faith

I’m 31, an Iraq war veteran, a Penn State graduate, a Catholic, a native of State College, acquaintance of Jerry … Continued

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.

Matt Rourke


Penn State football coach Joe Paterno arrives home Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, in State College, Pa.

(Read Day’s follow up to this post in his chat Monday with readers here. )

I was never harmed by Sandusky, but I could have been. When I was 15, my mother, then looking for a little direction for her teenage son, introduced me to the Second Mile’s Friend Fitness program. It was a program resembling Big Brother, Big Sister with a weekly exercise regimen.

Instead of Sandusky’s care, I was sent to a group of adults, many of whom were in their 20s. They took me from a C-student to the University of Chicago, where I’m a master’s student now. They took the football team’s waterboy and made a 101st Airborne Division soldier.

I was one of the lucky ones. My experience with Second Mile was a good one. I should feel fortunate, blessed even, that I was never harmed. Yet instead this week has left me deeply shaken, wondering what will come of the foundation, the university, and the community that made me into a man.

One thing I know for certain: A leader must emerge from Happy Valley to tie our community together again, and it won’t come from our parents’ generation.

They have failed us, over and over and over again.

View Photo Gallery: Penn State loses their first football game since Joe Paterno was fired.

I speak not specifically of our parents — I have two loving ones — but of the public leaders our parents’ generation has produced. With the demise of my own community’s two most revered leaders, Sandusky and Joe Paterno, I have decided to continue to respect my elders, but to politely tell them, “Out of my way.”

They have had their time to lead. Time’s up. I’m tired of waiting for them to live up to obligations.

Think of the world our parents’ generation inherited. They inherited a country of boundless economic prosperity and the highest admiration overseas, produced by the hands of their mothers and fathers. They were safe. For most, they were endowed opportunities to succeed, to prosper, and build on their parents’ work.

For those of us in our 20s and early 30s, this is not the world we are inheriting.

We looked to Washington to lead us after September 11th. I remember telling my college roommates, in a spate of emotion, that I was thinking of enlisting in the military in the days after the attacks. I expected legions of us — at the orders of our leader — to do the same. But nobody asked us. Instead we were told to go shopping.

The times following September 11th called for leadership, not reckless, gluttonous tax cuts. But our leaders then, as now, seemed more concerned with flattery. Then -House Majority Leader and now-convicted felon Tom Delay told us, “nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.” Not exactly Churchillian stuff.

Those of us who did enlist were ordered into Iraq on the promise of being “greeted as liberators,” in the words of our then-vice president. Several thousand of us are dead from that false promise.

We looked for leadership from our churches, and were told to fight not poverty or injustice, but gay marriage. In the Catholic Church, we were told to blame the media, not the abusive priests, not the bishops, not the Vatican, for making us feel that our church has failed us in its sex abuse scandal and cover-up.

Our parents’ generation has balked at the tough decisions required to preserve our country’s sacred entitlements, leaving us to clean up the mess. They let the infrastructure built with their fathers’ hands crumble like a stale cookie. They downgraded our nation’s credit rating. They seem content to hand us a debt exceeding the size of our entire economy, rather than brave a fight against the fortunate and entrenched interests on K Street and Wall Street.

Now we are asking for jobs and are being told we aren’t good enough, to the tune of 3.3 million unemployed workers between the ages of 25 and 34.

This failure of a generation is as true in the halls of Congress as it is at Penn State.

Perhaps the most vivid illustration this week of our leaderless culture came with the riots in State College that followed Paterno’s dismissal. The display resembled Lord of the Flies. Without revered figures from the older generation to lead them, thousands of students at one of the country’s best state universities acted like children home alone.

This week the world found the very worst of human nature in my idyllic Central Pennsylvania home. I found that a man my community had anointed a teacher and nurturer of children, instead reportedly had them hiding in his basement. The anger and humiliation were more than I could bear. I can’t wait for my parents’ generation’s Joshua any longer. They’ve lost my faith.

Thomas Day is a graduate student at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

Read more On Faith:

James Martin, SJ:
A Catholic priest’s view of Penn State

Post Sports:
Sandusky says he showered with boys but denies abuse

Video: SNL takes on Penn State and the devil

Gallery: Heightened emotions at Penn State game

Lisa Miller:
Christian leaders talk about marriage and sex

Figuring Faith: Romney’s Mormonism a tough sell for Millenials

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  • YeahNotSoMuch

    I am also a verteran — 25 years of service and you, sir, are a pogue.

    You are a 31-year-old waiting to be led? You were Airborne? You were in Iraq? Not likely.

    If you were, you would remember that we WERE greeted as liberators. It was the flawed actions of the civilians — Paul Bremer, specifically, that changed the Iraqi attitude in a short span of three weeks.

    The tax cuts you complained about helped us out of the Clinton-Gore recession much much faster than Barack Obama has taken to fail at the same task. If you want to snivel at Congress, whine about the Community Reinvestment Act that crippled our economy by destroying American personal property wealth.

    And now, you’re finally ready to take a leadership role. About time.

  • 40somethinggirl

    Hurrah for you! You have just matured enough to realize that nobody else is going to fix things for you. Now get to work.

  • ccnl1

    From the Land of Loading More and More and More and More Comments:

    Failures to follow two phrases of good human conduct, “Do No Harm” and “Call A Cop” define the current “vomit inducing” situation at Penn State, the Boy Scouts of America, the RCC, the Southern Baptist Convention, Seventh Day Adventists, the Citadel, Judaism et al.

    No Christian god or other god(s) or partnerships of the RCC with unversities to address the issues required, needed or desired !!!

  • jesrose

    Sorry in advance, for my limited English.You have a lot to be proud from your previous generations and yet a lot of mistakes that you acknowledge that they did and you should not repeat.
    Pay attention to the kind respect that some very old cultures of the east display for the older ones without meaning that they will not move innovative ways.
    Restore your best way to judge others fairly and improve the lives of the ones that will be your future generation.

  • andrewjoelpeters

    I agree with a lot of Mr. Day’s frustrations. It is extremely frustrating to me, for example, that I pay money to social security I will likely never get back. But because of the lack of political participation and organization of young voters, the elected officials in this country are not elected to represented younger voters, so they clearly are not going to change a system (social security) for the benefit of younger voters and at the expense of the people who actually elected them, older voters. Yes, one could attribute this problem to a lack of virtue and forward-thinking mentality of congress. But this does nothing to change the problem. The more relevant problem is that we (younger people), are allowing our country to be led by people who generally lack concern for our well being and the well being of future generations, because we do not demand that concern. We are not represented in congress, because we do not ask (or at least do not ask loudly enough) to be represented.

    Mr. Day speaks of our leaderless culture, referencing the State College riots in the absence of “revered figures” from our parents’ generation, as if somehow our parents’ generation is to blame for our generation’s rioting, as if our parents are responsible for us “act[ing] like children alone home”. If we cannot be responsible and lead ourselves, we have no right to complain that our parents’ are leading us in a way we do not agree with.

    The idea of a representative democracy is not blind faith, and it seems Mr. Day’s frustration is that his (or perhaps our) blind faith in the leaders of our parents’ generation has failed us. Yes, our parents’ generation may have in many ways failed us, but we cannot pretend that we have no responsibility in allowing that failure. We young people have a responsibility to hold our elected officials accountable, and our generation has not done that.

  • Benson

    The NCAA will be weighing in on Penn States lack of institutional control.

  • lsteele24

    For all the good thing we baby boomers did,which includes so many advances in everything technological, the biggest lesson we taught our kids and the lesson that continues with the new generation of parents insidously fueled by pop culture available 24/7 in our pocket computers is:
    1. as long as you don’t get caught, it didn’t happen
    2. celebrity makes you immune to moral behavior and consequences (even if your celebrity is at the local level)
    3. money (and a good? lawyer) will get you out of most prickly situations
    4. there is no greater good, just personal satisfaction or corporate profits
    5. possessions are the secret of happiness

    Examples, if you can’t think of any:
    Your local high school football team
    OJ Simpson
    Most politicians, local or otherwise
    Kobe Bryant
    Lindsay Lohan
    BP Oil and most other big corporations
    Bill Clinton
    The Catholic Church
    The Kardashians
    The Hip Hop Culture
    The Mass Production Food Industry
    The Military Industrial Machine
    SO many more…
    My list encompassses the so-called moral leadership of the world right down to the fluff of celebrities that are remarkably so interesting to so many.

    It is not too late for us or the new generation of parents to “do The Right Thing”.

    Teach your child to accept responsibility for their actions – no matter how difficult or expensive – (even if it means losing that sports scholarship or college spot) and do it by example
    Do not waiver from that lesson, ever.

    That lesson cannot be learned by pop culture, by the leadership in the country, or by organized religion.
    Right now, leadership is nonexistent or unable to make decisions, with decision making based solely on the next election or the perks provided by lobbyists.
    Our world, our country in particular has lost its moral way. Actions, not words, are what our children see. Maybe we can change the world one family at a time, one community at a time, but it cannot happen without a radical change in the moral fabric of the leadership of the country and the refusal to give weig

  • webstuff1

    This article makes no sense. It starts off like an honest veteran and then becomes a box for the same old Liberal soap. I see that the University of Chicago has turned this person into a complaining, unsatisfied journalist taking the controversial route to sell out for higher sales. This looks like one person started the article and an editor wrote the second half in classic WSJ style. You simply CAN’T blame a generation for the mistakes of a few people. This case is extremely complicated with A LOT of people involved. Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandeski have nothing to do with tax cuts – that DO stimulate a sagging economy. This author really exploited a tragic episode in the lives of several individuals in order to once again force the Liberal Agenda down everyone’s throats. But we ALL KNOW nothing good politically comes out of Chicago!

  • MisterChris


    First off thank you for your service to your country as a volunteer in the military. The country owes you gratitude for your sacrifice for the rest of your days on earth.

    As a 60YO boomer let me tell you how I see the same things you see.

    This “shopping” you complain about was what made possible the lifestyle many of the spoiled children of your generation took for granted. Prosperity was built on the backs of boomers where both parents had to work to support the insatiable demands of their children.

    Getting to the heart of the problem, I see things completely different than you do. As parents, Boomers tried the Doctor Spock method of child-raising. Rather than tell their children no, you can’t have it, you have to earn it they turned to giving their kids everything they asked for. If the child would throw a tantrum they would take them to McDonalds. Of course if another kid in the car wanted Burger King mom would stop there, too. This was all done in a misguided effort to give their kids the best of everything. In the words of Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, what has this gotten us? A “lazy, discontented rabble”, that’s what. Now they even have a name: “the Occupy Wall Street movement”. In your childhood years it was… household chores? Please. Shovel the snow? Hire a laborer. Cut the grass? You’re kidding right – that would interrupt the Nintendo game. And sadly, mommy and daddy gave in at the slightest hint of petulance from their children and now the devil has come home.

    Yes, the Boomers failed all right. They failed miserably at raising children. Many still live at home in their 30’s and 40’s because they can’t face the world without having their parents do everything for them. While the kids derisively call their parents Helicopters (a very accurate term, by thje way) they still let the parents do everything for them and are incapable of an independent thought or action. As a supervisor I have actually had parents call me to discuss issues with t

  • Wyandot_Panther

    For the sake of discussion, what generation is Mike McQueary from? I don’t think he is a boomer, maybe not even GenX.

  • EastClayCo-Op

    It disturbs me deeply that my sons and grandchildren have some dark times ahead. I’m a Boomer. The guys who promised the Iraqi’s would greet us with rose blossoms happen to be closer in age to my parents’ generation, and I’m tempted to blame their entire generation, too. However, that blame would be misplaced. In each generation there are good people, evil power hungry people, and activists who fight against the power. I am fighting against the greed and corruption through the Occupy movement. You can chastise me if it makes you feel better, but why not join me in the battle.

  • EastClayCo-Op

    And we would do that by…..VOTING! Good answer.

  • michaelv2

    Just to put things in perspective:
    -Yes, Baby Boomers are a weak, failed generation, and
    -No, they were NOT born bad or simply inherently evil somehow. There is no such thing as a collective of peoples born bad.

    They were taught and instilled those weaknesses by those dread ideologies of the 20th century, liberalism and socialism (something the GG’s are admittedly responsible for). They are the endgame of a nation that practices the policies of taking away people’s sense of responsibility and making it Big Government’s role , as ours did for close to 80+ years now. And so you now have a generation of selfish, weak individuals whom think they are entitled to everything from their children’s wealth to million-dollar McMansions with zero-percent financing, and can’t be bothered with little inconveniences like reporting a child rape unless there’s something in for them.

    Those kind of people are not leaders. We keep learning this lesson over and over again.

    The real lesson though is for the younger generations: either get smart and end liberalism and socialism and bring back the notion of personal accountability, or watch as your collective generation, too, becomes a failed one. Bear in mind, there’s only so many failed generations a nation, even ours, can take.

  • LiskaBettina

    As a twenty-seven year old woman, as a UCLA alum, as an employee of a large non profit company, as a daughter, as a writer–I could not agree more.

  • steveinda

    Sadly I agree. I currently work for one of the largest accounting firms in the world and nothing is more obvious than the fact that they have lost their ethics and moral center.

    What was a bulwark of our financial system, a key check in the balance of power, run by modest, hard working ethical accounting professionals, has become a joke. This generation of so called leadership is only interested in accumulating huge fortunes for a few who show revenue that meets their greedy needs. Those with ethics are forced out via strict profitability metrics which are the only ones that matter, without accountability for how you got there. I would guess the majority I know have at best taken credit for others work and at worst lied or cheated at some point to get the partnership.

    As stewards of the public trust, Big-4 firm audits are relied upon to preserve the stability of financial markets. I see a huge shift in current leadership away from the prior generation of leaders. They have rapidly moved away from a role as a modest “auditor” with ethics to become a warped group focused on global growth. These excessive, greedy partners are envious of the corporate C-levels they serve and think “I deserve that too.” Already mostly multi-millionaires, they are now doing whatever it takes to accumulate more cash.

    The response to Enron, the Big firms avoided being given the logical regulatory response (no consulting services). Instead they influence congress to mandate SOX and burden businesses with yet more useless audit tasks, rather than hold auditors accountable. These rules meant to to limit advisory services are now a joke, with all firms working double time to spread internal presentations “explaining” how to grow revenue by avoiding regulation and how to write proposals to double-talk around ethical commitments to not have a conflict of interest or services that impact independence. The definitions are so stretched that basically we are back at the same place. Give t

  • steveinda

    Interesting point, but your economics are wrong. Tax cut multiplier is fractional, which govt spending tends to have a multiplier effect. All research I have seen debunks trickle-down. But, since science is anathema in this county that doesn’t stop the false claims of politicians and the believers. Anyone who quotes Liberal Agenda or Conservative Agenda for that matter is a puppet repeating propaganda. There is no such thing. People use simple issues to extract votes from simple people. Right now govt needs to tax and spend, the key is EFFECTIVELY. Preaching tax cuts solves nothing. Entitlement reform is the issue.

  • steveinda

    True East Clay. Numbers are tougher to challenge. Voting % by age group anyone? Get some people in office who promise to advocate for your system. Our elections are imperfect, but better than most governance models. It can work!

  • 0438

    I hate to tel you, but much of the dysfunctional environment in DC is the product of people just a few years to a decade older than the 31 year old writer.