Embracing Neurodiversity and Ursinus and Beyond: Mike Giongo ’15
One of my favorite sayings is rooted in a Chinese proverb: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I am grateful to have a diverse spectrum of passions, as well as a tapestry of experiences and personalities that have enabled me to learn more about myself. These have all helped shape me into the person and professional I am today. But before I could do this, I had to embark on that “single step.” In my case, it was reconciling my inner conflict of identity in my case, as it pertains to my neurodiversity.
Allow me to step back in time, to Christmas in 1995 when I was two years old. This was when I was medically diagnosed with autism. There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding my diagnosis. Imagine the questions my parents had: “Will he be able to live an independent, functional life? Will people accept him for who he is? Will he ever be able to fully embrace what the world has to offer?” I dealt with the discriminatory attitudes of the broader community with my diagnosis as well. I was treated as an outcast by certain people. It was painful enough to fight to be heard; it was doubly so to know that people heard you and still flat out didn’t care.
My early childhood was an existence that forced me to embrace a tumultuous circumstance with a maturity and grace beyond my age. There were full days of schooling from kindergarten onward, separating me from my parents for considerable stretches of time. However, this formulated the emotionally driven component of my personal evolution-coming to terms with who I am fundamentally. First foot down.
The second component of my evolution was driven intellectually, by the desire to transcend my bounds and educate myself. Enter Ursinus College. At Ursinus, I saw diversity of perspective, diversity of thought, and, most importantly, diversity of the human experience as seen through each individual lens. And I saw how comprehending, embracing, and integrating this diversity into multiple environments (workplaces, communities, schools, households) can truly drive the cultivation of the authentic self.
From the first-year discourse of the Common Intellectual Experience (CIE) regarding the fabric of life and human existence to the selfless and worldly mentorship of my professors and depth of curriculum and kinetic learning I encountered in my mathematics and physics majors-not to mention beyond them-I became empowered not only with knowledge, but also armed with the ability to articulate for myself with reason and emotional power.
Additionally, I would be remiss not to mention my fraternity Pi Omega Delta, as well as several other lifelong friends that I made during my time at Ursinus. They showed me that it could be done-that I could be accepted and loved, that I was capable of anything to which I dedicated my mind and heart, that I was capable of being me and transcending my insecurities to shine brightly. Indeed, they have also helped shape my professional journey and inspired me to advocate for neurodiverse individuals like myself. They remind me that memory, indeed, is a blessing and has the capability to be an immense driving force for good. Second foot down and single step completed.
Today, I am employed by SAP as a financial data analyst and am currently in the process of formalizing a non-profit to benefit the neurodiverse community regionally. As I embark on my endeavors, I carry with me the profound impact that my college experiences have had on me. I am thankful to Ursinus for the forum to share how Ursinus College has impacted the person that I am today, and I am grateful to be a part of the Alumni Spotlight series. Wishing everyone who I was fortunate to cross paths with at Ursinus much goodwill and prosperity!