UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Kato Griffiths will represent the College of the Liberal Arts as its student marshal for Penn State’s summer commencement, which will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University Park.
The Dillsburg, Pennsylvania native will graduate with bachelor of arts degrees in English and psychology and a minor in French and Francophone studies.
“To be able to be recognized and represent the college that’s been so great to me, it’s a great honor,” said Griffiths, a Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar.
A participant of Penn State’s 2+2 plan, Griffiths spent his first two years of college at Penn State York before finishing his education at the University Park campus. Griffiths said he didn’t want to get too involved on York’s campus because he knew he’d want to be more active once he got to the University Park campus. But when the coronavirus pandemic forced much of the traditional Penn State experience to go virtual, Griffiths struggled to feel a physical connection to the University, he said.
Thankfully, that didn’t stop him from making the most out of his time on campus and around State College. Anything Griffiths felt like he might’ve been missing was made up for by the invaluable connections he made with his professors. One of his favorite experiences as a Penn State student, he said, was working closely with his 400-level English professors as he worked on his honors thesis.
“Coming from a small-town environment, I couldn’t imagine that my mind would get so opened,” he said.
Griffiths’s thesis explored how art can be used to improve mental health — themes that have been driving forces in his extracurriculars.
Music has long been an influence in Griffiths’s life, as he started writing and performing his own music at an outlet after his sister, Kasey, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. When Kasey graduated from high school in 2018, Griffiths released a song titled “Be a Hero” as a graduation gift.
Though he said he hasn’t had much time lately to focus on his music, he credits music for shaping him into the person he is today.
“The idea has formed my identity as well,” he said. “It impacted my influences in research areas, [such as] my thesis, centered around how we can consume art, literature, song, and film, to improve our mental health.”
It’s this adversity that Griffiths says inspires him to make the most out of every opportunity he’s given, including his time at Penn State.
“I didn’t want to waste any sort of opportunities because I’ve been in the darkest areas of life, and I think I just want to suck everything out of the light areas while I’m still here,” Griffiths said.
As a Paterno Fellow, Griffiths has been encouraged to challenge himself academically and distinguish himself in areas traditionally associated with the liberal arts: ethics, service, and leadership; excellence in communication and intercultural awareness.
“We in the Paterno Fellows Program are so proud of Kato,” said Jeremy Engels, Barry Director of the Paterno Fellows Program and professor of communication arts and sciences. “He embodies the very best of the liberal arts, in his dedication to serving others and to living a well-rounded life. I cannot wait to hear about all of his future adventures and successes.”
The Paterno Fellows Program asks students to participate in additional out-of-classroom experiences such as internships, education abroad, ethical leadership, and community service projects.
This past spring, Griffiths studied abroad in Montpellier, France for five months, where he lived with a host mother and took various excursions, in addition to doing some volunteer work with the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).
“During our spring break, I went with some friends to Paris and Versailles. I saw the Eiffel Tower, ate fondue and escargot, visited the Sacré-Coeur, got lost in the incredible gardens at the Chateau de Versailles, rented a paddle boat and saw works by Picasso, Chagall, Modigliani and many of my favorites at the Centre Pompidou,” Griffiths said. “It was a good weekend.”