Abington valedictorian advocates for mental health awareness

Abington Spring 2022 Commencement

Sorelle Sax, Penn State Abington Class of 2022 valedictorian.

Credit: Penn State

ABINGTON, Pa. — Sorelle Sax focused on achieving top grades and on her professional development as a Penn State Abington student, but she also prioritized her mental health and advocated for mental health awareness.  

In her remarks as Class of 2022 valedictorian, she shared how debilitating anxiety marred her first semester of college. But she transferred to Abington, which is near her home, and embarked on a journey that led to personal and career fulfillment. Saks encouraged her classmates to hold fast as she did despite inevitable challenges.  

“We may need to take U-turns, yield to others, navigate bumpy roads, or even change directions completely. However, these twists and turns will ultimately lead us to where we are truly meant to be. Enduring these detours gives us the opportunity to experience self-discovery and to learn to better navigate the road of life,” she told the audience. 

Sax volunteers for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, but more often she shares her story informally to normalize mental health struggles and demonstrate that “it is OK not to be OK,” she said. For example, she was a guest in her sister’s graduate school class, where she spoke with students studying to become mental health counselors.  

“My hope is that telling my story will make people feel less alone in their individual experiences and help them recognize that we have the ability within us to overcome these battles. I will always advocate for mental health awareness and will continue to work to break down the stigma surrounding it,” she said. 

Sax knew she wanted to work in a helping profession but didn’t have a clear vision of her path forward until she discovered the rehabilitation and human services (RHS) major at Abington.  

“The RHS major appealed to me because it is an umbrella for so many opportunities. I was able to explore occupational and physical therapy, speech language pathology, social work, mental health counseling, and applied behavior analysis, among others, to see which field aligned best with my passions,” she said.  

RHS majors are required to complete a 15-credit, 600-hour internship during their last semester, and this aspect of the major also interested Sax. 

“I knew I would get quality, hands-on experience in the field while also getting a glimpse into what my typical workweek would look like as a future professional,” she said. 

Sax was so successful at her internship as a registered behavior technician at the Springtime School, which educates children with autism diagnoses, that she was hired as a full-time staff member when she graduated. 

“As an intern, I worked one-on-one with these students and used the principles of applied behavior analysis to complete client-specific programming. Thanks to my RHS professors, I was given the tools necessary to effectively fulfill my duties. I could not have asked for a better internship experience,” she said. 

I thrived on the small class sizes and the ability to make more impactful connections with my professors. I learned from some of the most talented professionals in the field. However, most importantly, I was able to do all of this while focusing on my mental health.

—Sorelle Sax , Penn State Abington Class of 2022

This fall she will begin a master’s program in applied behavior analysis with the goal of becoming a board-certified behavior analyst.  

Sax credits Michael Lavetsky, lecturer in RHS and the major’s program chair, with much of her success. 

“Professor Lavetsky was an outstanding professor who brought his own professional experience into our class discussions, and he was an excellent adviser who always had my best interest at heart. Without his willingness to sit down and discuss career opportunities when I felt uneasy about my original career path, I may not have ever explored the field of applied behavior analysis and fell in love with it. He also made sure that every member of the RHS major felt valued and heard,” she said. 

When Sax reflects on her college career, she said the Abington experience helped her achieve the balance she needed in her life.  

“I thrived on the small class sizes and the ability to make more impactful connections with my professors. I joined a major that I was extremely passionate about and learned from some of the most talented professionals in the field. However, most importantly, I was able to do all of this while focusing on my mental health,” she said. 

About Penn State Abington 

Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,000 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 23 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics and more.