It was Valentine's Day, and Awele Ajufo chose to publicly declare her love. The object of her affection? Not a person but a people.
"I wouldn't be where I am without Penn State Abington," she said after speaking at the student-run State of State conference. "I had the chance to tell 300 people why I am absolutely in love with Abington."
Organizers selected Awele, a Florida resident, to tell the story of her unique experience as a student outside of University Park, and she took the opportunity to urge all Penn State locations to unify.
"We are one university composed of 24 campuses," the Abington Student Government Association president told the crowd. "We should experience our entire university and embrace each campus's exciting differences while celebrating the commonalities."
Awele, a health policy and administration major, reflected on her experience at State of State:
"During my drive to University Park, my mind started to run wild. You are the only speaker who is not a senior and a sophomore at that (no pressure). You are the only student speaker from a campus (seriously, no pressure). You forgot your heels (great job)."
The morning of the event, I heard a very familiar voice. It was my adviser, Gina Kaufman, and my great friends Melissa, Irene and Maria. They left home at 5 a.m. to see me speak. Me. Little ole me. More of my friends showed up and my mother came from Florida.
Seeing them reminded me why I was there. There are so many incredible people within the Penn State community, and it spans way further than just one campus. Penn Staters are passionate, no matter where they are, and all of those who attended State of State from Abington are prime examples.
"We should experience our entire university and embrace each campus's exciting differences while celebrating the commonalities."
--Awele Ajufo, Penn State Abington student
It was my turn to talk, and it was among the greatest eight minutes of my life because I spoke about what I love, about where I chose to further my education.
This is what I told them: Don’t tell us that we are not real Penn Staters when Abington raises so much money for THON. Don’t tell us that we are not real Penn Staters when we march to Harrisburg and talk to our state legislators about why Penn State deserves more state appropriations. And don’t tell us we are not real Penn Staters when we walk across that stage with our diplomas in our hands.”
Awele will work toward unifying the Penn State experience from the other end beginning this fall when she moves to University Park. She expects to be involved in campus life, but Abington set the bar high.
"Abington gave me the chance to have one of the greatest college experiences imaginable, and the Penn State community gave me a voice," she said. "My hope is that every Penn Stater finds what I found at Abington, love and pure happiness."
Many of Awele's friends from Abington traveled to State of State, too, to inform their opinions about issues including engaged scholarship, mental health resources, and sexual assault awareness.
Irene Ho said she the experience was valuable.
"Attending the State of State was definitely one of the best learning opportunities I've experienced," Ho said. "The best aspect were the in-depth breakout discussions that gave me many different perspectives."
Gina Kaufman, associate director of student affairs at Abington, said she was excited to bring two full tables of students.
"It was one of the most engaging, informative, inspiring professional development opportunities that I have experienced at Penn State," she said. "The sessions were recorded, and I plan to incorporate them into programming for our campus."
The annual State of State forum brings students, faculty and staff together to address issues and brainstorm ideas to better the community. In addition to Awele's discussion, this year's topics included engaged scholarship, mental health resources, and sexual assault awareness.
Learn more about State of State at http://www.psustateofstate.com