Goodnight Dorm Room: Senior Column by Matt DiSanto


When I graduated from high school, I received an amazing gift from my mother. It was “Goodnight Dorm Room” – a playful version of children’s classic for those going to college.

The book, written by Sam Kaplan and Keith Riegert and illustrated by Emily Fromm, offers lighthearted advice for first-year students. Most people who read “Goodnight Dorm Room” would laugh or smile as they read rhyming verses full of jokes, life advice, and everything in between.

Instead, I bawled my eyes out.

I still can’t understand why this 64-page picture book hit me so hard. “Goodnight Dorm Room” didn’t say anything particularly awkward. It didn’t tell me that college would be a scary, hopeless endeavor or something worth dreading. It only ended up painting a picture of the university full of possibilities, opportunities and changes, and that that’s what scared me.

I came to Penn State in August 2018 as an emotional wreck. Leaving everything I knew from home — my friends, my hometown, my “glory days” in the marching band, and more — was a tough adjustment. I had trouble eating and sleeping, and I certainly couldn’t fathom the new adventures Penn State would offer me. Those first few months were tough, but I eventually found solace and solace in exploring campus and getting involved, and no organization has helped me more than Onward State.

I joined Onward State as a wide-eyed freshman, not even two weeks into my first semester. I was always skeptical, of course, but I chose to dive in headfirst by writing stories and getting involved whenever I could. In the second semester, I managed Onward State’s social media presence alongside mentors who pushed me to improve every day. For a long time I thought I was complete shit in this role, but a wise editor and friend once gave me some great advice: Do not be sorry. Be better.

I took this advice to heart and tried to improve as best I could. At the end of my sophomore year, I found myself directing the show at Onward State and have remained in that role until now. Leading this organization through a global pandemic, sometimes without knowing if we could even return to campus or see each other again, was an incredibly stressful challenge. Yet this group persevered and continued to fulfill Onward State’s mission to tell the Penn State story, and I couldn’t be prouder of all that we have accomplished.

My experiences with Onward State really taught me not to be afraid of the unknown. On the contrary, I learned to embrace it with the hope that things would eventually work out. Usually they did. forward state broke newsTUNA crushed coating (both in person and of our dorms), developed an engaging podcastand continued to serve the student body through initiatives as simple as an exchange of football tickets. Sometimes things went wrong, and you ended up in a one-sided war with a really angry business owner who wanted to wipe Onward State off the face of the planet. All this in a day’s work, I suppose.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the past two years have largely been spent navigating uncharted waters, but that never stopped us for long. Now I know that won’t stop me from moving on either.

My time at Penn State would not have been the same without the help of influential people I met along the way. I couldn’t thank everyone, but I’ll do my best.

  • Thank you to my parents and my brother, who have supported my interest in Onward State since the first day.
  • Thank you to Liv for helping me get the most out of my senior year. It was great, and I especially have to thank you for that. I can’t wait for the sequel.
  • Thank you to Anthony, Elissa, Mikey, Steve and many other Onward State alumni who set the bar high for this organization and helped me fall in love with it from day one.
  • Thank you to Michael Tauriello, my best friend on this planet. I love you, man, and I couldn’t have gotten here without you every step of the way.
  • Thank you to Ryen, Will, Hope and Mackenzie for forming the greatest class of contributors of all time. Can you believe it took us four months to become friends? If only we had known how we would become years later.
  • Thank you to all the Onward Staters who have supported me and kept this organization afloat. I’m proud of each of you and can’t wait to see what’s next.

As I sat down to write this column this week, I knew I had to go back and read “Goodnight Dorm Room” for inspiration. After all, it had been sitting in the top drawer of my desk through every year of college.

I didn’t cry this time flipping through the pages, although maybe I should have. I laughed at the illustrations and the stories told in it. I recalled fond college memories reading about roommates, dorm life, final exams, parties, and every other traditional college experience you could think of. At some point, it finally hit me: Over the past four years, I have navigated these uncharted waters as well. I really did! I went through the experience and am leaving Penn State as a better, stronger person. That wasn’t too bad, huh?

When I reached the end of “Goodnight Dorm Room”, its last passage stuck with me for a while.

“There’s a reason it’s called the best time of your life. It has only one flaw: you can’t do it twice. So cherish every moment, remember every minute, because there’s nothing like college, there’s nothing, there isn’t!

— “Good night dormitory”

It’s true. College is a sprawling journey with nearly limitless possibilities, and you can’t waste time worrying about the unknown. You’ll enter as an anxious freshman, but emerge as a proud graduate with countless stories and experiences to share. However, you only get one hit, so make the most of it. Go learn, try something new, and get out of your comfort zone. Take a day off to climb Mount Nittany, skip a class to visit the Old Main steeple, and never miss a home football match. You’ll always remember experiences like these, and you’re unlikely to cross them off your to-do list.

I’m leaving Penn State after the adventure of a lifetime. Do I have any regrets? Sure. I probably should have studied harder, partied more and joined the Blue Band like I always wanted to, but I love where I ended up. Looking back on the past four years and looking through my camera roll, I’m happy with the end of my Penn State story.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and tell the Summer 2018 version of myself how this chapter would turn out. I would like him to know that he will be leading the most followed student media in the country for two years and even cover a sports team. I wish he knew that he would finally get his first 4.0 GPA in his last semester of college and graduate with honors. I wish he knew that once he settled down at Penn State, he would meet the greatest people in the world – so much so that he doesn’t want to leave this place as much as he might say.

I didn’t grow up in a Penn State family with expectations of what this trip has in store for us. Maybe that’s what once scared me so much. But now I’ve learned that part of the fun in life is not knowing what comes next. It’s a challenge, sure, but it’s a challenge that ultimately makes us better in the long run.

I don’t know what the next step is for me. But for once in my life, it doesn’t scare me.

By day, Matt is a senior journalism graduate. By night, he’s the editor of Onward State. He’s a big Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football fan, and a washed-up batsman from Collegeville, Pennsylvania. The fastest way to his heart is pizza Margherita and “Arrested Development” quotes. Follow him on Twitter @mattditiso_ if you hate yourself or email Matt at [email protected] if you hate it.


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