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PCC’s 53rd commencement features speaker with transformative story
Photos and Story by James Hill
Kole Myrick never thought he’d reach this pinnacle – Portland Community College’s 2015 commencement student speaker.
“I am pretty proud to have been chosen,” Myrick said. “I never expected to end up where I am now and this opportunity is yet another part of my journey.”
At Portland Community College’s 53rd Commencement Ceremony, Myrick will address more than 1,000 fellow graduates and thousands more in friends, family and community members. He’ll discuss his story of being a trans man going from homelessness to honor student and student leader, and how he learned to ask for help.
“PCC basically saved my life by accepting me and offering me financial aid,” said Myrick, a Northeast Portland resident.
This year, more than 5,400 degrees, certificates and awards will be handed out and nearly 900 students are planning to walk in front of thousands of friends, family and community members. Graduation proceedings are set for 7 p.m., Friday, June 12, in the Memorial Coliseum, 1401 N. Wheeler. For more information on the ceremony, visit the commencement website or e-mail email@example.com.
In addition to Myrick, presenters include master of ceremonies Karin Edwards (Cascade Campus president), who will be joined on stage by Deanna Palm (board chair), Sylvia Kelley (acting PCC President) and commencement speaker Jeff Pettit (Rock Creek Campus math instructor). The national anthem will be performed by 2015 graduate Lisa Bennett.
The college’s Parking and Transportation Services will be providing free roundtrip shuttle service between the Cascade Campus (705 N. Killingsworth St.) and the coliseum. Parking is free at Cascade. Shuttles will commence running at 4 p.m., departing every 15 minutes. The last shuttle will leave the coliseum one hour after graduation. For graduation shuttle information, contact Michael Kuehn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finding his Voice
Myrick’s journey includes being a transgender male in a gender-specific world as well as becoming homeless in the big city environs of Seattle. Soon after losing his housing, the Spokane, Wash., native made his way south to Portland, a last shot at survival, he said. At age 39, Myrick had made the hard decision to restart his college education and earn a network administration degree.
This isn’t the first time he tried college. Myrick graduated from East Valley High School in Spokane in 1994 and went on to attend Spokane Falls Community College for a short spell before dropping out to work full time, never thinking he’d return to college. Myrick didn’t step foot back onto a college campus until 2013 when he enrolled at PCC. This time, he said he got the academic support and life mentoring he needed to build the confidence needed to get involved and succeed in school.Academics has never been a problem. On June 12, he will get his associate degree in Computer Information Systems: Network Administration, after cultivating a 3.9 grade-point average and making the honor’s program. He will return to the college next year to finish requirements for the Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree. In addition to his studies, Myrick has been a student leader in the college’s student government (Associated Students of PCC) and served as the Sylvania Campus’ student director for legislative affairs.
“I have been able to do a lot of work towards helping students register to vote, have a voice on the proposed student activity fee increase and lobbying our legislators in Salem,” Myrick said. “I have been able to meet many people I never dreamed of, including Governor Kate Brown.”
Myrick sits on several committees, including the Gender Inclusive Spaces Committee, which advised the college on important changes that included building 22 new all-gender bathrooms across the district and making it possible for students to use their preferred names on student rosters and IDs.
“We have worked so hard over the last two years and the victories we have gained have made me so incredibly proud to be a part of it,” he said.
Future involves lots of education
What does the future hold for Kole Myrick? According to the video game enthusiast and part-time photographer, same as the present – more college. Myrick is aiming to earn a bachelor’s degree in Intercultural Communication (maybe at DePaul or Pepperdine universities) and a master’s degree in Student Affairs (possibly at either Oregon State or Colorado State). Those degrees will give him the tools for his professional return to a community college to work as a student leadership, or queer resource coordinator.“I want to be able to help students get through the tough times and find their paths,” Myrick said.
It’s a desire to return the favor and do what people like Stephen Arthur (Student Life and Leadership Development manager) and Heather Lang (dean of Student Development at the Sylvania Campus) did for him in his time at PCC. Both staff assisted Myrick in adjusting to college life and expectations.
“Stephen taught me so much about being an advocate for students, he has showed me how much of what I do affects students at large and he has also helped me become the person I am today,” Myrick said. “I am much more confident, self aware and looking forward to the future than I was when I first arrived at PCC. Without his guidance, camaraderie and friendship I do not think I would be where I am today.
“And Heather has helped me a lot with with what I want to do after PCC and where I see myself in the future,” Myrick said. “Not to mention having a smile for me when I need one. She doesn’t let me give up when I feel overwhelmed and that is so important to me. There are so many people that have affected my life here at PCC. I can’t possibly name them all, but I do appreciate every single one of them.”