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PCC’s commencement speaker inspires many to finish their degrees
Photos and Story by James Hill
Tigard resident Michelle Reers is going to be a scientist.
Don’t be surprised if you keep hearing that over and over from her on Friday, June 14. Reers is the student speaker for PCC’s 51st graduation ceremony at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Coliseum, 1401 N. Wheeler. In front of thousands of friends, families and fellow graduates, Reers will discuss her story of getting off drugs and going on to earn two associate’s degrees the past two years. But what she’ll talk about most is her ability to inspire those around her to go to college and work toward their associate’s degrees – like her 20-year-old daughter and her current husband Cen Reers, an employee with the college’s Facilities Management Services, to name a few.
“It will be the proudest day of my life,” she said. “That is, until next summer when my daughter gets her degree. That’s my accomplishment; that’s my greatest thing. My family’s future is going to change and I helped set that future.
“The whole reason I’m here now is so much less about me, and the things I’ve done, but about encouraging others,” she added. “Last graduation, I had a gal come up to me and thank me that it was because of me that she was graduating. That I was an inspiration to her; I was so glad. I don’t know exactly what I said or did; I just hope to keep doing it.”
At age 45, Reers is earning her transfer degree this year after getting her associate’s degree in general studies and an accounting certificate last year. Her story consists of getting a second chance at redemption through college. She had tried attending a university back in 1986, but lasted just one term and soon became pregnant with her first child. After ending a 10-year marriage to the father of her three children, a meth addiction, bad friendships and poor workplace conditions were ruling her life. She decided it just wasn’t worth it anymore.
“I just never felt I was the person everyone labeled me to be and I made the decision to get off meth for my children,” Reers said. “I love my children and I didn’t want to lose them. I made that choice to change my life and their lives.”
As a kid, her parents had divorced and her father didn’t consider a college education important. “‘You’ll never amount to anything and you’ll be no good,’ was said in many different ways,” Reers recalled. “I spent ten years hearing that.”
When her sister earned an associate’s degree a few years ago at PCC, it gave her even more reason to get back to school. At PCC, Reers heard different, far more positive things. People like Stephen Arthur (clubs and programs specialist), Colleen Pittinger (student activities office assistant), Cami Bishop (Sylvania Campus student leadership coordinator), Jenn Sonntag (fundraising and alumni officer with the Foundation), Linda Gerber (Sylvania president), and more, helped her find her way and gave encouragement. Thanks to this support, she began to succeed and earned two Miller Foundation scholarships through the PCC Foundation along the way that kept her going.
“The woman blows my mind on a daily basis,” Sonntag said. “She’s inspired so many of her fellow students, her instructors and advisors to get out, and make changes in their communities.”
Today, the hard work paid off as Reers will graduate with a 3.84 grade-point average. In her time at the college she has been named to President’s and Dean’s lists, given the Phi Theta Kappa’s Dave Arter Achievement and Distinguished Member Regional awards and named to the 2013 Oregon Community College Association All Oregon Academic Team. She also served as president of the Sylvania PTK chapter Alpha Eta Iota, worked on the college’s student senate and volunteered for numerous college programs. Reers is now headed to Oregon State University’s Honors College to study botany so she can help save the environment.
“I do have to remind her to breathe on occasion and have whiplash from trying to follow her as she zooms between projects,” said Bishop. “She teaches me something new each time we meet and I feel privileged to have known her. At graduation, I know her story will move everyone who hears her speak.”
Now meth free for close to a decade, Reers has big plans to be a field researcher once she gets her bachelor’s degree. Or maybe when she gets her master’s or her doctorate. You see, Michelle Reers isn’t going to slow down when it comes to education. It’s the new cycle she is establishing for herself and anyone who is around her.
“The only way to change that cycle was to go and get a degree,” Reers said. “Now, I’m going to be a scientist. When I first said that I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had to say it about six times that I was going to be a scientist. It feels really good.”