Parent to parent: How Gettysburg’s community fosters personal growth

Gabe Houser ’24 with his parents
Gabe Houser ’24 with his parents Denise and Greg Houser P’24 at Commencement for the Class of 2024 (Photo by Renee Giffroy)

“Gettysburg is all about community and finding your people. Even if you cannot find them now, believe me when I say they are out there just waiting to get to know you.”

This response was how our son, Gabe Houser ’24, partly answered the question, “What does Gettysburg College mean to you?” It appeared in a 2022 article for The Gettysburgian, Gettysburg’s student-led newsmagazine and website. To my wife Denise and I, it was confirmation that our son was finding his place and was well on his way to becoming his own person.

Before arriving at Gettysburg, Gabe learned he had received the David Wills Scholarship for academic achievement. Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Gabe wanted to attend college within a half-day’s drive of home. I imagine my wife and I are no different than most parents. We not only experienced feelings of happiness, excitement, and pride as our son left for college but also fear and concern for his future and well-being. Remember, this was August 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, something which no one had ever experienced.

Gabe Houser ’24
Gabe Houser ’24 (Photo by Eric Lippe ’24)

Although Gabe had worked hard and proved he could be independent, and my wife and I knew we had done everything we could to prepare him, it was still very stressful to see him go. Our concerns were heightened by the fact that, in addition to having to manage several food allergies, Gabe is neurodivergent with ASD—autism spectrum disorder. 

While I’d like to write that everything was a bed of roses and went great from the start, that was far from the truth. The first three semesters seemed brutal to him. Isolation amid the pandemic, a lack of friends, a sea of masks, and a rigorous academic workload seemed never-ending. What remained constant was the tireless work by faculty and administrative staff and their commitment to the well-being of the student body.

“Gettysburg College promises to provide the means by which a person can gain a greater insight into who they are, what they want to accomplish, and how they will define and lead their own consequential lives.”
– Greg Houser P’24

Staff from the Counseling and Wellness Center engaged Gabe and met with him regularly to help him maintain his mental health. They also arranged for an upperclass mentor to introduce him to campus life—as much as could be possible at that time. Gabe’s academic advisor, Economics Prof. Gokcer Ozgur, supported Gabe throughout his college career by meeting him for lunch and attending Gabe’s theatre performances. Through their efforts, Gabe realized he was part of a larger community and gained the confidence to go outside his comfort zone to join it.

Gabe Houser with Carson Kressley
Gabe Houser ’24 shares a candid moment with Elizabeth Drew ’24 and Carson Kressley ’91 at the Spring Honors Day awards recognition ceremony. (Photo by Renee Giffroy)

Eventually, the masks came off, and the campus community came alive. Gabe met several like-minded neurodivergent students and joined Phoenix Rising, the college’s student organization for neurodivergent students. He had found his community, and he eventually became its treasurer. He also got involved in What’s It Called, a sketch comedy club that puts on live shows in the “Saturday Night Live” vein, and Shots in the Dark, an improv club on campus that hosts live shows. These experiences lead to his decision to become a dual major and add a theatre arts major to his economics major.

Gabe Houser with his parents
Gabe Houser ’24 appears on stage following the completion of his senior theatre arts capstone with his parents, Greg and Denise Houser P’24.

Recently, Gabe staged “Myself and I,” a senior capstone for his theatre arts major. It’s a one-act play about how a young neurodivergent college student manages a radically changing social landscape and thrives in a post-COVID campus environment, learning more about himself and the world around him. Afterward, Eric Lippe ’24, The Gettysburgian’s magazine editor, interviewed him for an article he was writing about the show. The article demonstrates that Gettysburg College is a vibrant community where anyone can “find your people.”

The Gettysburg Approach enables students to acquire a breadth and depth of knowledge and enduring skills to prepare them for their futures. Through the Gettysburg Approach, Gettysburg College promises to provide the means by which a person can gain a greater insight into who they are, what they want to accomplish, and how they will define and lead their own consequential lives. Seeing the young man our son has become, we couldn’t be prouder of what he’s accomplished and more. We’re thankful to everyone at Gettysburg College for providing the environment, community, and support that fostered his growth.

Greg and Denise Houser P’24 of Harleysville, Pennsylvania, are parents of economics and theatre arts major Gabe Houser ’24.

By Greg Houser P’24
Posted: 05/24/24