What Does a Memorial Represent?

A memorial is “something designed to preserve the memory of a person.” It honors an individual’s contributions to a community in a way that seeks to educate future generations about this person.

Often memorials are physical structures that serve as a lasting remembrance. These memorials, such as the Lincoln Memorial, become community treasures where people visit to remember a person’s memory.

One such statute is the Joe Paterno Statue, which is located just outside of Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa. The statue has been a point of contention since Thursday’s release of the Freeh Report. With the revelation that Paterno was an active participant in the coverup of Jerry Sandusky’s pedophilia, many have demanded that the statue should come down.

Those who support the statue’s demise believe Paterno should not be honored with a lasting memorial. His legacy is forever tarnished and the school must remove itself from the Sandusky scandal. They would also argue that removing the statue may hurt the Penn State fan base, but it is the right thing to do.

On the other side are those who believe the statue should remain. There are two lines of thought. The first is that Paterno should be remembered for his football accomplishments and the statue serves this desire. Others argue that the statue should be revamped to discuss the whole person, both his successes and failings.

At the center of this debate is the question of what purpose does a memorial serve? If a memorial is only honors those who have an outstanding character, then several memorials should be torn down. George Washington refused the participation of African Americans in the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” but maintained slaves. Should we tear these memorials down for their moral failures? Memorials do not tell an individual’s entire story, but only expresses that which we want to remember.

What about the Paterno statue? The anger at Paterno’s inaction is going to be directed at the statue, because it is a physical and symbolic representation of the ideals Paterno failed to live up to. ESPN’s Buster Olney suggested Friday that the statue be reconstituted as a memorial that tells Paterno’s entire story, including this dark chapter. This might be a unique alternative, but it may fail to fully deal with the anger directed at Paterno.

Essentially, there are no easy answers. You cannot do away with Paterno’s influence on Penn State simply by tearing down a statue. At the same time, having the statue on prominent display serves as a constant reminder of a scandal the Penn State community wants to distance itself from.

The perspective of time and cooler heads will be needed to make the right decision about whether to keep the statue or not.

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