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44th commencement showcases students' stories
Photos and Story by James Hill
PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Community College is celebrating its 44th graduation ceremony, awarding 2,415 diplomas and certificates to PCC graduates. Commencement exercises will be from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 9, 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 District President Preston Pulliams, the board of directors and executive staff. This year’s ceremony will include emcee Nan Poppe (Extended Learning and Southeast Center president), Board Chair Harold Williams and student Michelle Martin will sing the national anthem.
“Graduation marks a milestone and major accomplishment for our students,” said Pulliams. “These graduates have worked hard. They did not, however, do it alone. I want to thank the able staff and faculty of PCC, the supportive family and friends of the students and the many donors to the PCC Foundation whose financial support enabled many of our students to continue their studies to graduation. Congratulations graduates, please stay active in the PCC community.”
This year’s student speaker is Leah Gibson of northeast Portland. Gibson, an adopted baby of a mixed racial background (half Lakota Sioux and half Persian), faced many challenges during her childhood that saw her become a drug and alcohol addicted youth who had dropped out of three different high schools by the age of 16.
During the four years at PCC, Gibson has maintained her sobriety, completed her high school diploma via Gateway to College, worked as student body president at the Cascade Campus, and earned her Oregon Arts Transfer Degree with flying colors.
“I was actually surprised,” Gibson said of her speaker selection. “This is a great challenge for me. I am grateful and honored to be able to speak at graduation. I’ll try to convey that I’m just one of many stories. I feel other stories should be heard, too."
As Cascade’s student government president, Gibson worked with 17 community college student body presidents to represent more than 400,000 students statewide, campaigning for students in Salem and Washington, D.C. on issues such as child care, student loans and education funding. She also worked tirelessly with the Board of Directors to give a voice to students concerning the PCC budget.
PCC, the largest 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-four years later, PCC serves more than 91,000 full- and part-time students.
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.