Okay, I don't know that "Penn State, Fight On!" is the line or title of any of the Penn State fight songs, but it sure could be. Our son (a grad student at Penn State) gave Lois and me two CDs from the Penn State Glee Club, a men's glee club in which he sings.
Now Vaughn has written in his own blog about the experience of teaching first year students the fight songs: an odd experience for a Canadian from the University of Waterloo. I asked a friend here in Manitoba if he knows any Canadian university that has the kind of school spirit seen at Penn State (which is common among American universities). He said that such enthusiasm seems to be an American phenomenon.
So we listened to the CDs, and enjoyed the enthusiastic singing of a men's choir: "Fight on, Penn State!" In fact, I have now listened to these songs a number of times and find them profoundly moving. This response seems odd enough to be almost maudlin, so that I wonder what's going on internally.
I suppose I could be remembering my own past as an American, missing the high that comes from expressing love and loyalty (even for one's school). Canada revels in being more low key. Canadians insist that they are less patriotic than Americans (but see what happens if you mistakenly call a Canadian an American). Similarly, Canadian universities don't chant, "We are BC!" (At least, I don't think they do.) So maybe my delight in Penn State's songs is simply nostalgia for my own school days at Messiah College.
That's part of the trouble: I never went to Penn State. I am a graduate of Annville-Cleona High School, Messiah College, AMBS, and Asbury's School of World Mission. I suppose I should look for their fight songs, and wallow in the nostalgia of my own past. Instead, I turn up the volume in the car stereo as loud as I can and listen to the glee club and the loud applause from the audience.
Somehow, I don't think that nostalgia is the whole story. It's part of the story; but I think the real reason for the sense of delight and connection I feel when the male voices sing out lies beneath a description of musical forms that draw out an emotional response, or a conversation about the a cultural affinity for patriotic fervour (country or school), or other descriptions of the surface of the phenomenon.
Although I doubt that I can penetrate the surface of my own response and see clearly into what lies deeper, I have a hunch. There is something sacred about community. Christians (and adherents of other world faiths) embody the sacredness of community. School ties may be one of the lesser examples of human community. I'm not sure: it may be one of the greater; but in any case it is one of the more vital forms of human community that survives in contemporary USA. Even though "Fight on State!" refers to a school not my own, I revel in the connection between people that energizes the singing.
Perhaps the next generation will not know these songs anymore. Perhaps 20 years from now the glee club will not sing of Nittany Mountain. If so, we will all have lost something, which we will need to re-create in some other form. We don't need to score a touchdown or hold the line against a Michigan rushing back, but we need each other anyway. When it comes to school spirit, my American side listens to my Canadian side's cynical putdown, then joins the song, "Fight On, Penn State!"