Fall commencement: Penn State York grad perseveres

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

For soon-to-be-Penn State York graduate Rachel Patz, her walk across the stage at The Pullo Center on Friday, Dec. 15 is something that she thought was improbable just 10 years ago.

When Patz, now 29, was in third grade, she was diagnosed with ADHD. Within weeks, she was receiving the in-class support she needed to succeed as an Individualized Education Program student.

Rachel Patz

Just before entering high school, however, the Maryland native took an assessment that determined she had outgrown her disorder.

She entered high school without the additional teacher support — and without her motivation.

“I fell flat on my face,” Patz said.

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Without her IEP, she spent hours trying to complete papers and homework for classes, sometimes to little or no success.

“I remember crying and saying ‘Why can’t I just do this?’” Patz said.

Even her teachers appeared to have given up on her.

“They told me, ‘You’re not cut out for this. Maybe you can figure out a trade,’ and I believed them.”

Patz dropped out of high school in 10th grade and began working in retail at 16.

By 19, she took her GED exam and passed. The success on her first try made her rethink the way she saw herself, as well as her ADHD diagnosis.

In 2012, while working at a clothing outlet, Patz was hit with a realization. She said she looked at her manager while organizing a stack of clothes and thought, “There’s more to folding clothes. There’s just got to be.”

Back to school: She initially enrolled at Harrisburg Area Community College in pursuit of an associate degree in social science but transferred to Penn State York in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in the similarly themed Human Development and Family Studies major.

Patz said she immediately gravitated to Penn State’s support programs, especially the campus support room, the Nittany Success Center.

“It was so important to have the small classes and the individual relationships with professors,” she said.

However, by Patz’s junior year, she began to notice issues with her concentration. She visited a doctor, who placed her on new medication to improve her understanding.

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When she told her doctor that she had outgrown her ADHD when she was younger, her doctor stared at her in disbelief — such views on the disorder were long disproven, she was told.

She was placed back on medication and almost immediately saw an improvement in her classes and in other facets of her life.

This past semester, Patz received an internship with Penn State York’s Talent Search Program, where she helps students at William Penn High School in York City with financial aid and selecting classes for postsecondary education.

Initially, Patz was flabbergasted when Penn State York professor JeanMarie St. Clair-Christman suggested applying for the internship, given her history in high school.

“I told her, ‘You’re hilarious,’” she said.

St. Clair-Christman said she did not know a better person for the internship.

“One of the things I see in Rachel that I’ve seen grow is that she has amazing insight in human behavior,” she said.

“Whoever hires her in York County will be lucky.”

Last-minute scramble: Now, as she prepares to have her name read at commencement — by St. Clair-Christman, no less — she is grateful for some last-minute financial support that paid for her final semester.

Just weeks ago, Patz's graduation was in doubt because of a limit placed on her federal loans.

“I had no idea what to do,” she said. All of the options that were on the table were “scary.”

At the last minute, scouting from Penn State’s financial aid office found her eligibility for three scholarships — the Mary S. Fritz Trustee Scholarship, the President’s Scholarship and the Brunhouse Scholarship — and she was awarded all of them.

She recalls her disbelief watching as each scholarship lowered her outstanding balance on her bill-payment page.

“I just stood there and cried,” Patz said.

With her studies behind her, Patz now is looking toward the future.

She will remain involved with Penn State Talent Search in a part-time role and will continue her full-time job at WellSpan. However, she may not leave her studies for long.

On Patz’s last day of class, St. Clair-Christman approached her and asked, “What master’s are you going for?”

With further guidance from St. Clair-Christman, Patz recently submitted her application in a master’s degree program at Millersville University.