By Geoff Hallett and Laura Stocker Waldhier, Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK — The Penn State Veterans Plaza, a gift of the Class of 2011, will be dedicated in a public ceremony to be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14, on the patio of Old Main, on the University Park campus. The plaza will honor all Penn State veterans, including the late Lt. Michael P. Murphy, the only Penn State alumnus to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Construction of the plaza, located near the intersection of Pollock Road and the Henderson Mall, off the northeast corner of Old Main, is in its final stages and is expected to be completed prior to the ceremony. More than 3,200 donors contributed to the project, surpassing $260,000, the largest amount ever raised for a class gift at Penn State.
“I’m just so impressed by the outpouring of support and the efforts of the class in terms of participation, and the overall final product that’s been developed,” said Benjamin Witt, 2011 senior class gift chairperson and Penn State alumnus, “It’s such a reflection of the commitment of the students and the class of 2011 — how committed they are not only to Penn State but also to recognizing Penn State veterans and Lt. Murphy. I’m very proud to say that not only was I a part of the gift committee but also the class that has set so many records for giving.”
The plaza’s design features a circular walkway and curved stone wall, centered around an artistic representation of a warrior’s shield, symbolizing honor and sacrifice. The shield’s surface is carved with a “rippling water” effect, to evoke a feeling of tranquility.
The curved wall bears the inscription of a Greek phrase, believed to have been spoken by Spartan mothers to their sons before battle, meaning, “With it [your shield], or on it.”
Witt noted that according to ancient Spartan tradition, a warrior was never without his shield — he either returned home from battle alive, carrying his shield, or dead, carried upon it by his comrades.
The plaza’s curved wall will be named to honor Murphy, a 1998 liberal arts graduate and a Navy SEAL. He received the U.S. military’s highest decoration posthumously for his actions in 2005 during the war in Afghanistan. To learn more about Murphy, visit online.
“Veterans have risked and sacrificed their own safety so we are free to pursue our daily lives in a protected homeland,” said Samuel E. Hayes Jr., Penn State trustee, alumnus and veteran. “With this Penn State Veterans Plaza, the Class of 2011 has achieved a noble height in philanthropic citizenship. We salute our veterans. We salute the Penn State Class of 2011.”
The Veterans Plaza was designed by Ennead Architects LLP, a firm based in New York City. Their team included artist Mark Mennin, structural engineer Robert Silman Associates and graphic designer Poulin + Morris.
Speakers at the dedication will include Witt; Hayes; Penn State President Rodney Erickson; retired Navy Capt. Ryan J. McCombie, University trustee, alumnus and veteran; University Archivist Jackie Esposito; and Daniel Murphy, Michael Murphy’s father.
Seating at the dedication is limited, but all are welcome to attend. In case of inclement weather, the event will be held in Schwab Auditorium. For more information about the event, contact the Office of Annual Giving at 814-863-2052 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2011 Senior Class Gift Committee includes Witt (overall chairperson), Ryan Hartnett (communications chairperson), Sharon Rose (marketing chairperson), Geoff Halberstadt (gift development chairperson), Vanessa Gruver (fundraising chairperson), Jackie Boyland (student relations chairperson), Michal Berns (campus outreach chairperson) and Robin Beltrani (events chairperson).
The design review committee for the Veterans Plaza includes Jordan Ford, senior class gift adviser; Geoff Halberstadt, 2011 senior class gift development chair; Ford Stryker, associate vice president for physical plant; Gordon Turow, director of campus planning and design; David Zehngut, University architect; Rachel Prinkey, project manager for the 2011 senior class gift; Jan Muhlert, director of the Palmer Museum of Art; Eliza Pennypacker, professor of arts and architecture; Capt. Chase Doty, professor of naval science at Penn State and 1983 alumnus; Maj. Erik Orient, U.S. Marine Corps and 1999 Penn State alumnus; and Rear Adm. David Titley, oceanographer of the U.S. Navy and 1980 Penn State alumnus.
The tradition of class gifts began when the Class of 1861, at its reunion in 1890, gave the University a portrait of Penn State’s first president, Evan Pugh, which still hangs in the lobby of Old Main. For more information about Penn State’s senior class gift program, visit online.