Gibateh overcomes adversity to graduate … and inspire

May 04, 2016

Foday Gibateh always dreamed of attending Penn State Berks since he visited the campus for a tour. At the time, the high school soccer player was on track to attend college in a few months when a Sunday morning trip to IHOP with friends changed his life forever. He was involved in an automobile accident that left him paralyzed and in the hospital for six long months. So you might assume that he abandoned his dreams — but you would be wrong.

On May 7, Gibateh will graduate from Penn State Berks with a bachelor of arts in communication arts and sciences. He said that it never crossed his mind not to go to college. “I was still hurt, but better to come to school than stay home,” he said.

He didn’t let his physical condition slow him down. He lived in the residence halls and learned to navigate the campus in his electric wheelchair and, according to faculty, staff and students, always had a great attitude — even during snowstorms.

“The first year was the hardest,” he said. “I was more fatigued and tired going to class after being hospitalized for six months. After that, I got adjusted to getting around. The staff of Housing and Food Services have been great, the other students have been excellent — I met one of my best friends here.”

He also said that having his friends from his Philadelphia high school at Penn State Berks helped with the transition. One of his best friends, who was also in the accident with him, attended Penn State Schuylkill, and they have remained extremely close. In fact, Gibateh was a passenger and was wearing his seatbelt, yet he was the only person hurt in the accident. But he is not bitter or angry.

During his time at the campus, he has made the dean’s list and was a member of the African Student Union and the Muslim Students Association.

When asked about his time at Penn State Berks, Gibateh said, “It has been great. The main thing that Berks has done is giving me my independence back. At home, my family did things for me but here it was my responsibility and I learned time management. When I got depressed, I could be around friends.

“It has also humbled me and made me more appreciative. Just being able to eat at Tully’s instead of eating hospital food was a big deal for me. I appreciate good friends, and I made a lot of friends here, and still have those I grew up with.”

What does the future hold for Gibateh? He played soccer in high school and basketball with his friends, and he still loves sports. He plans to pursue a career in sports communication. He also plans to learn to drive again.

Gibateh has been an inspiration for many on campus, as well as members of his own family. He was the first person in this family to attend college and after his accident, his sister enrolled at Penn State Abington in the occupational therapy program because she wanted to be able to help him and others with similar injuries through physical therapy.

  • Foday in classroom

    Foday Gibateh

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated May 05, 2016