DALLAS TWP. — A self-admitted high school slacker, Marcus Grudzinski found himself forced to buckle down after his family home was flooded.
The old nose-to-the-grindstone ethic paid off in many ways, including getting $45,000 thanks to the “Undercover Boss” TV show and earning the Outstanding Adult Learner of the Year Award at Misericordia University.
Not bad for a 28-year-old receiving his bachelor’s with a double major at this Saturday’s commencement, a goal that wasn’t even on his radar when he graduated from Holy Redeemer High School in 2008.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to go to school for yet,” Grudzinski recalled. “I didn’t realize the value of my education, and looking back, I really wish I did.”
He went to work as a forklift operator, but three years of that made him appreciate the doors a degree might open.
“I met some great people there,” he said of the job, “but three years made me realize, well, I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.”
So Grudzinski enrolled at Luzerne County Community College in 2011 and earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice in 2013. But consider that LCCC starting date for a moment: September 2011. Ring a bell? Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee tag-teamed the region for two weeks, dumping enough rain to raise the Susquehanna River to a record crest of 42.9 feet in Wilkes-Barre, devastating West Pittston, where Grudzinski’s family lived at the time.
“We evacuated the house,” he recalled. And while the floodwaters didn’t rise out of the basement, the damage was severe enough they couldn’t move back in. “My girlfriend and her parents were gracious enough to let me live there while my father and I looked for a new place.”
All this happened while he attended LCCC full time and worked 20 to 32 hours a week at the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino as a slot machine attendant. That was the job that got him involved in an “Undercover Boss” episode, when then-Mohegan Tribal Council chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum shaved his head, donned a goatee and tattoo and came to Plains Township pretending to be competing in a new game show.
Bozsum tried his undercover hand at valet parking and slot attendant. After hearing of Grudzinski’s dedication in working while attending college and recovering from the flood, Bozsum decided to put $45,000 toward the mortgage for a new family house in Wilkes-Barre.
“I still can’t believe it happened, even now looking back four years.”
Small wonder Grudzinski heaps praise on Mohegan Sun, where he is still employed.
“They worked completely around my school schedule,” he said. “I am very grateful for what they’ve done for me.”
In fact, once he enrolled at Misericordia to earn his bachelor’s degree in the relatively new major of government, law and national security, Mohegan Sun suggested that if he gets his law degree as intended, he might come back and work as an in-house lawyer.
Law school pending
Talking about all this three days before commencement, Grudzinski did two things repeatedly: Express endless surprise at how well things have gone for him, and boundless praise for all those who helped him.
There’s his internship with Luzerne County President Judge Richard Hughes. “I learned so much,” Grudzinski insisted. “The experience pushed me more toward becoming a lawyer.”
And his relation with history professor Allan Austin, who presented Grudzinski with the school’s Outstanding Adult Learner Award. “Dr. Austin made me want to add history as a major. It only meant one more semester.”
Besides, studying history included a course on the history of rock music, the favorite genre of a man who plays guitar and drums, and dreamt as a child of being a musician.
Graduation on Saturday afternoon is hardly an ending. He will take his LSAT test this summer and expects to be in law school within a year — Villanova is his dream choice. But sitting in the University’s Founders Room on Wednesday afternoon, he did let himself contemplate a year of not only prepping for law school but playing plenty of guitar.
He does not dismiss the childhood goal of being a musician, but he’s going to law school because “I prefer to have a backup plan,” Grudzinski laughed.
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish