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41st commencement highlights college diversity
Photos and Story by James Hill
PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Community College is celebrating its 41st and largest graduation ceremony ever, awarding 2,934 diplomas to PCC graduates. Commencement exercises are set for Friday, June 13, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Memorial Coliseum, One Center Court, 1401 N. Wheeler Ave. Family, friends, faculty and staff will be on hand to congratulate the graduates and celebrate their accomplishments as they take center stage with PCC President Jesus “Jess” Carreon, the board of directors and executive staff. Tracy Jones, student leader at the Cascade Campus, was chosen to deliver the student address. Jones, a single mother of three who began her studies from a homeless shelter, has plans to transfer this fall to the University of Maryland. Carreon will provide commencement remarks. Alice Jacobson, executive dean of the Sylvania Campus, will serve as emcee. The PCC Jazz Band will perform, along with featured female vocalist Marky Mason. PCC, the largest and also the most ethnically diverse institution of higher education in Oregon, offered its first commencement ceremony in 1962 to a dozen students in the lunchroom of Portland’s former Failing Elementary School. Forty-one years later, PCC serves more than 105,000 full- and part-time students. Ethnic minority students make up 26 percent of the student population. Students hail from all walks of life, ranging in age from 14 to 96. This year’s graduating class of 2,934 is 14 percent larger than last year.Students will earn degrees in associate of arts Oregon transfer, associate of science, associate of general studies and associate of applied science; one- and two-year certificates; high school diplomas; and GED certificates. The increase in degrees the last few years reflects the college’s popularity. During 2001 and 2002, there was double-digit growth at PCC. However, due to state budget cuts and the lack of funding for community colleges, the graduating class of 2003 may mark the high-water year for PCC graduates. This winter, the college imposed caps on enrollment.“These past two years have been really tough for K-16 public education in the state,” said Carreon. “However, even though we continue to get bad news regarding the budget, which ultimately decreases our state funding, be assured that PCC continues to be a strong and positive force in the lives of students and the communities we serve.”One student receiving positive experiences from PCC is Tracy Leanne Jones, the student commencement speaker. Jones, a resident of north Portland, had a rocky start to college. The 36-year-old mother of three young boys lost her ability to pay for housing when her partner and the father of her children lost his job. Eventually, he relocated out of state to find work and Jones was forced to move to a shelter with her sons. She found her way to a PCC campus and providence led her to college administrator Terri Greenfield who steered her to the Project Independence program for displaced homemakers. From there, the road began to smooth out. Jones said, “I have created a support system in this family at PCC and I am forever indebted to the people who have helped me succeed in life.” Many were there for her, she said, “when I cried about my grades to my next door neighbor, when teachers allowed me to turn in late assignments due to illness, when I was given the leadership opportunities and the chance to work with Kendi (Esary, PCC staff) and student government. “Jones, although talented in art and math, has struggled with reading and retaining information due to a diagnosed learning disability. But it did not prevent her from earning good grades and induction in the national community college honor society, Phi Theta Kappa. She has also been a student leader at Cascade Campus, directing student programming.“I’ve had to invest even more time I had to find it during sleeping time. If you have kids, that is the only time you can study, and learn, is when they are sleeping,” she said. Jones set up a system at home that put her on the same bedtime schedule as her sons, 8 p.m., but set the alarm for 2 a.m. to cram in study time before getting her 5, 8 and 10-year-old off to daycare and school. Jones will focus on the diversity of Portland Community College, the “greatness” of PCC students and advise students to continue their educational dreams. June will be a busy month for Jones. Later in the month, she and her partner Freeston Walker will be married in a ceremony at the Cascade Campus.