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Terry Knarr, an upcoming graduate of Penn State York, has been a misfit throughout his life.

“I don’t want people telling me how to do things,” he said.

But when he was a junior in high school, he decided to make a change and enlist in one of the most disciplined fields out there: the Army Reserves.

He trained over the summer after his junior year in high school and went for additional training after graduating, and soon enough he was deployed.

“9/11 happened,” Knarr said. He first was deployed to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he worked for a year, and then to Iraq for eight months.

After his stint in Iraq, Knarr, 35, left the military and decided to change careers, beginning to fix cars.

He went to HACC and attained his certificate in automotive technology in 2007.

Not long after getting his degree and working in an auto shop, Knarr once again started looking for more.

“I got tired of working 60 hours a week for horrible pay,” he said.

Turning point: In 2008, he became a federal law enforcement officer for the Department of Defense in New Cumberland. Knarr said his five-year role as a federal cop marked a “turning point” in his life.

He said although he enjoyed certain aspects of what he was doing, he found stagnation.

“There was no opportunity for growth on a personal level,” he said. With that, along with a “general negative atmosphere,” he left the Defense Department to pursue yet another career change.

“I get bored with things easily,” Knarr said. “I need to get exposed to new concepts, new things, new ideas.”

That culminated in Knarr registering for the electromechanical engineering program at Penn State York.

Knarr said the program already had similarities to what he had studied with automotive repair, as well as his outlook on life.

“Engineering is constantly changing, constantly trying to better itself,” he said. “That addresses the boredom issue.”

Knarr enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at the school under the G.I. Bill in 2013, and he said the four “phenomenal” years have flown by.

“The entire experience has been unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Along with the school's proximity and the friends he has in the area, Knarr said he has really enjoyed the small classes and study sessions with "progressors" who help others make progress on their studies.

“You can tell they actually care, and that’s a real motivator,” he said.

During his time at Penn State York, he became part of the Graham Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies, which helps students attain internships in local businesses and industries.

With the help of the Graham Center, Knarr obtained an internship at BAE Systems, which recently announced it would bring more than 500 new jobs to the county.

After his internship, Knarr was offered a part-time job diagnosing technical issues in an assembly line. He said he has since been offered a full-time position and will start in June.

Knarr said he is happy with his decision.

“Everything’s kind of worked out,” he said.

'I own my life': As one of the distinguished academic performers in his class, Knarr hopes to convey a message of self-realization to his fellow graduating classmates.

“I really want to focus on the future,” he said. “My turning point was focusing on wanting to grow on a personal and professional level, and just because you have a degree doesn’t mean you can stop learning now.”

He also wants to pass along ideas of never settling.

“It’s understanding that I own my life (and) I don’t want to be ruled by outside forces,” he said.

Now, his misfit mentality has brought him to the highest part of his academic career thus far.

“Hopefully I won't get bored,” he said. “That’s really the main reason why I chose this.”

Commencement

Penn State York will hold its commencement ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday at the Pullo Family Performing Arts Center on the campus.

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