“Will living in a small town hold me back?”

By |Published On: April 9, 2024|

Several years ago, a well-meaning acquaintance suggested that living in State College might be holding me back.

This acquaintance had attended Penn State years ago and, in their mind, our small town had little going on outside of the university.

For a while, I occasionally wondered if I would have had more – or better – opportunities if I had decided to live elsewhere.

But when this person’s comment popped out of an old box in the storage room of my brain recently, I realized that I could finally pack up that thought for good.

Over the past 8 years, with the help of a supportive community filled with creatives and experimenters and neighbors truly committed to leaving this town better than they found it, I’ve built a really cool life here. (And with an art degree, no less. Do the wonders never cease?!)

State College is a small town, sure, but one with lots of opportunities to make a real impact and interesting, curious, energized (and energizing) people out there actually achieving that.

Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winner Rhiannon Giddens performing at Eisenhower Auditorium in March

This morning, after getting an email from one of my fellow team members about Happy Valley Restaurant Week, a project that for 3 years has given me the coolest behind the scenes look at our area’s food scene, I thought, “Our small town has its own Restaurant Week.”

Later, I was adding some events to my May calendar. I noticed the date saved on May 11 for Hoppy Valley Brewers Fest at Beaver Stadium and thought, “Our small town has a festival featuring dozens of regional craft brewers.”

On Tuesdays, I park downtown (after a 6 minute commute) and head into 3 Dots, where I’m the new-as-of-March Marketing and Communications Manager. I work with an incredible team to amplify the arts in State College and we’re currently working with community partner Gorinto Productions to put on the 4th Annual Rhoneymeade Fest, our (small!) town’s very own genre-spanning music festival, which will feature more than 45 performances this year. Over the past two months, these same collaborators are responsible for bringing West African psyche rock, experimental jazz, and Tuvan throat singers to the stage for our community to experience. (In addition to a whole bunch of other mind-stretching, interesting, fun music events this year!)

Last week, the 3 Dots team brainstormed some killer window decoration ideas for our town’s upcoming Pride month celebration, and the week before, I heard Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winner Rhiannon Giddens perform on campus.

It’s human to wonder what life I might be living if I had made other choices. But when I look at the pieces that have been coming together to form my own personal State College puzzle, I feel really lucky. The soft spot I had for this town that carried over from my college days visiting friends here has transformed into a deep respect for a community that’s getting better all the time.

If anything, the deeper I dig through the layers of this small town, the more expansive the future feels, the more I find to celebrate, and the prouder I am to call myself a State College local.

Laura Mustio made her way to State College via Pittsburgh in 2015. Her writing celebrates our area’s hidden gems, treasured locals, and not-to-be-missed experiences.

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