WYOMISSING, Pa.––A favorite quote for Katherine Giorgi, a Penn State Berks student marshal and commencement speaker representing the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Division, is Lao Tzu’s “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Giorgi, 52, a single mother of four who graduates summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA, has been on an incredible journey herself since she graduated from Reading High School in 1984 and had to postpone her dream of a college education until now. “A question I have been asking myself my whole life is, ‘Where do we go from here?’ Now I know where I am going.”
She will graduate with a bachelor of science degree in rehabilitation and human services (RHS) on Saturday, May 4, during the college’s morning commencement ceremony at 10 a.m.
After graduation, she plans to become an advocate for and inspire those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “RHS is a perfect fit for me. It stoked this major fire in me to help the marginalized. This is my path,” she said enthusiastically.
Incredibly, her daughter, Maria, a life sciences major, will graduate with her on May 4 at the 10 a.m. ceremony. Maria will then start classes on May 6, at Gwynedd Mercy University to obtain an accelerated bachelor of science in nursing.
Her other children include Eddie, who graduated from the Berks Technical Institute (also with a 4.0 GPA); Jordan, a graduate of the University of West Virginia; and Bella, a ninth grader at Wilson High School. She also has three grandchildren.
Giorgi worked full time for Hofmann Industries, Sinking Spring, from 1987 to 2003, lastly as the customer service manager. “After that, I realized I needed to redo my skills and I decided to enroll at Penn State Berks, which was very convenient for me, to see if I could handle it. I made it through my first two classes and I was going full time soon, taking 12 credits a semester and two courses in the summer, so I could graduate in four years.”
One of her best experiences was her internship with the nonprofit agency, Prospectus Berco, Reading, which provides services to more than 425 Berks County men, women and children with disabilities. She spent 40 hours a week with the agency and its staff for 15 weeks, a total of 600 hours.
“I flourish best with hands-on learning and my time at Prospectus Berco gave me plenty of opportunity to do just that,” said Giorgi. “I was involved with adult training, vocational and residential activities and administration, which gave me a fuller understanding of regulations that cover working with individuals with disabilities, insight into the difference between helping too much and teaching independence and a clearer path to where my skills and passion can best be used in my career. And I learned sign language which is an important skill when working with nonverbal, as well as individuals with hearing impairments.”
Looking back on her time at Penn State Berks, Giorgi said she wanted individual attention and she got it here. “It was personalized and I did get a lot of one-on-one time with my professors, enjoyed many great classes, and developed many lifelong friendships. I was able to make college work for me with the other responsibilities I had.
“But the most important thing that I learned during my time here is that I can make a difference; you can’t advocate for others unless you understand and work directly with the individuals you support. I know I can be a voice for people who can’t or don’t know how to speak for themselves,” said Giorgi.
When asked what she plans to do after graduation, she states that she hopes to continue her educational journey in graduate school.