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Portrait of a Graduate: Montgomery Township Deputy Mayor Earns Bachelor’s Degree

Some smart person once said: “Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.”

It took Montgomery Township Deputy Mayor Catherine Gural 25 years and a drive across-county-and-back to earn her bachelor’s degree. She encountered roadblocks and avalanches along the way that may have crushed her dreams, but she acquired navigation skills and found her own way. She learned to succeed against the odds by developing what is often called grit, perseverance, or resilience.

“I think there’s a perspective that comes from hard work, from putting up with misfortune, or bad luck, to overcome setbacks and to come out smiling,” Gural says.

“That’s one of the things we try to teach the kids at school. We talk about giving kids the tools to deal with disappointment and adversity. We talk about resilience as a soft skill, as a value, as a tool that you have in your tool box to deal with the world in the state that it’s in,” she said during an interview at The Montgomery News office.

Gural started her journey in Hamilton Township, which is not very far from her current home in Montgomery Township. But, she had major setbacks as she grew from the girl she was at Nottingham High School to the woman she is today — a mother of three, a wife, a successful career woman, and a deputy mayor of one of the wealthiest towns in New Jersey with arguably one of the best school districts in the country and a population of residents with advanced degrees and big job titles.

According to the most recent census data, Montgomery has a median family income of $167,889 compared to Hamilton Township's median family income of $87,512.

Above: Catherine Gural with her husband Todd, who is a middle school teacher. Children include Simon (a college student), and Sadie and Stella.

Helping others to become upwardly mobile, and to overcome their hardships, is one of the reasons she says she ran for office. This is evident in her favorite quotation:

“True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but about lifting others up.” —Sheri L. Dew

Gural remembers clearly a moment that has come to define her life. Her father, John Giordano, was on the phone making travel arrangements for a college visit when, suddenly, he had a grand mal seizure.

“After that, I never made the train to visit the college in Connecticut, and I never made the appointment to go again,” she said, choking up. Her father died of brain cancer a year later, in March 1995. “My senior year was very sad,” she said.

Her dad provided for his family by working as a systems analyst for Merrill Lynch. She eventually followed in his career footsteps and now works for the same company, but in a different roll. She is a successful professional woman, having earned a Six Sigma black belt, and is a certified PMP (project management professional).

Yet, college eluded her for a number of reasons.

With her father being sick in 1994, the year she graduated high school, and her family in crisis, Gural decided to stay home and take classes at Mercer County College. Back then, she was a biology major.

Her path then took her through a series of ups and downs. After her dad died, she says she took a series of “incompletes” in her classes. She also was working many jobs, including one at a kiosk in the Princeton MarketFair selling hats; a check-out girl at McCaffery’s Supermarket; and a lifeguard.

“I had a lot of emotions to work out,” she says. “So, one day I decided I was going to drive across country.”

She and a friend quit their jobs, hopped in her Volkswagon Golf, brought their snow boards, and drove to California and back in November of 1996. They stopped in Vail, Colorado; Park City, Utah; and spent Thanksgiving that year in a vegetarian diner in San Francisco eating grilled cheese and avocado.

Her tastes still run towards vegetarianism, she says.

After her trip, Gural says, she decided to transfer to Rutgers and get serious about her degree. It was Spring 1997. She says she was taking one or two classes a semester because that was all she could afford, and she worked as a dental assistant in Lawrenceville.

She took extra jobs as a server at the Peacock Inn and also at a Princeton restaurant called Zanzibar, where she fell in love with a man who developed a serious drug addiction.

Along with the joy of finding love, and having a son, there was great difficulty. She became a single parent, was diagnosed with MS, and had to push forward to make a good life for herself.

Gural graduated from Rutgers in May with a bachelor's degree in English/Film Studies at Rutgers University

She says she learned: “There is no one way to do something. There are different ways to define success. And, there is an element of luck in everything. Oh, and, never give up.”■

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