Please meet our Scholar of the Week, Penn State University’s Kaity Gonzalez. Read Kaity’s story below, originally published in Penn State’s Collegian
THON dancer not letting wheelchair stop her from participating
Kaity Gonzalez is one of several hundred students who will dance for 46 hours the weekend of this year’s Penn State Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. Remarkable in itself, Gonzalez’s presence on the dance floor becomes even more remarkable considering she has limited use of her legs.
“I have weak knees,” she said. “The muscles and nerves in my legs are very weak. I can only hold seven pounds on my knees.”
In the past, Gonzalez (senior-science) said she has used crutches and braces for mobility, but now uses a wheelchair to navigate State College’s hilly terrain.
However, she doesn’t let that get in the way of her very active life here at Penn State.
Gonzalez said her mother taught her to “never take no for an answer.” She serves not only as the head of special events for the THON organization Tetra, which she has belonged to for three years, but also as the current president of the student organization Harmony.
“I try to put my wheelchair aside,” she said. “I’m going to do whatever I feel like I can do, and what I know I’m capable of doing. And I don’t really like to let anything stop me.”
Outside of her academic and extracurricular activities, she works as a fingerprint analyst for the University Police.
“Most of my hobbies and interests revolve around my passions,” Gonzalez said. “Which are helping others – whether that be animals or people.”
Harmony is a performing arts program for children with and without special needs and is maintained through student and community volunteers. Katie Hoffman, an associate professor of special education at Penn State, serves as the group’s adviser.
Hoffman said when she learned that Gonzalez would be dancing in THON, Hoffman “didn’t think she could be any prouder of [Gonzalez] than that moment. There’s nothing she can’t do.”
“She is kind, she is compassionate, she is motivated,” Hoffman said. “She embodies everything [THON] stands for.”
Gonzalez first became involved with THON during her freshman and sophomore years through the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, before she became fully committed to Tetra. Gonzalez first took up interest in THON after losing an aunt to cancer, an aunt who pushed her to apply to college and with whom she was close.
“She actually passed away two months before I got my acceptance letter to Penn State,” Gonzalez said. “I was like, ‘She wanted me to go to college. There has to be a bigger picture, what else can I do in a small way to honor her life and everything she went through?’”
It was during Gonzalez’s first year of involvement with THON that she met Scot Becker, whose battle and eventual triumph over cancer had a lasting impression on her.
Gonzalez said she felt she wouldn’t “do the cause justice,” if she didn’t “fully commit.” For her, full commitment means dancing on her knees the weekend of THON, without her wheelchair.
“Everybody keeps telling me, ‘You’re an inspiration! You’re so inspiring!’ ” she said, “but I kind of see myself like, ‘I’m just another person.’ But I understand where that comes from, I suppose. I don’t know, to me, I just want to make some sort of impact for the kids.”
The biggest source of strength and inspiration that Gonzalez draws from, she said, is her mother.
“My mother raised my brother and myself, and she never let anything get in her way,” she said. “Her independence and her always being able to juggle work, and then my medical things, and having two kids and living on her own… if [she] can do anything, I think I can do it.”
Andrew Shemick, Class of 2015, met Gonzalez through Tetra, and describes them both as best friends.
“Just standing up for 46 hours straight is an accomplishment of itself,” Shemick said. “I can’t think of anyone else who’s more deserving than Kaity.”