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PCC grad speaker finds inspiration from Haitian roots

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  • Estanis, a native of Les Cayes, Haiti, said he will tell graduates of his story of assisting international aid organizations in his country and his journey from there to PCC.
  • In April, Estanis, with his flag of Haiti, marched with fellow PCC students in the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade.

When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, Ewald Estanis couldn’t reach his mother, five brothers and five sisters.

“I was really fearful,” said the 27-year-old Estanis, who was in his first year at Portland Community College when the quake struck. “It’s one of those times where you definitely want to be with your family, especially when you haven’t heard from them for over a week; no phone calls or any other communication.”

Estanis, a native of Les Cayes, Haiti, said he will tell graduates of his story of assisting international aid organizations in his country and his journey from there to PCC.

Estanis, a native of Les Cayes, Haiti, said he will tell graduates of his story of assisting international aid organizations in his country and his journey from there to PCC.

Without really knowing the fate of his family, the Northeast Portland resident boarded a Haiti-bound flight with a medical team to go and help with the rescues and recovery. A fluent speaker of Creole, French, Spanish and English, Estanis served as a medical interpreter for two weeks and during that time discovered his family was alive and safe.

“Not only knowing, but being able to see that my family was okay; that was all that mattered to me at that time,” Estanis said. “I spent the rest of the time working in hospitals and under tents with the team, translating and helping in any possible way I could. Being on the ground with a group of devoted people who can assist my community with their medical needs, and being there to facilitate that, was a big accomplishment for me; it’s always good to give back to the community.”

Today, Estanis is giving something back at Portland Community College, too. He is the student speaker for PCC’s 50th graduation ceremony at 7 p.m., Friday, June 15, in the Memorial Coliseum, 300 Winning Way. As the college caps its diamond anniversary celebrations, a total of 4,200 degrees, certificates and awards will be handed out and about 700 students are planning to walk in front of thousands of friends, family and community members. Rock Creek Campus President David Rule will serve as master of ceremonies and be joined by Board Chair Jim Harper, District President Preston Pulliams, national anthem singer Michael Adams and faculty speaker Sylvia Gray.

Once again, Parking and Transportation Services will be providing free shuttle service to and from graduation at the coliseum. Shuttles will travel from both the CLIMB Center and Cascade Campus. Parking is free at both those locations. On Friday, June 15 buses will commence running at 4 p.m., departing every 15 minutes. The last shuttle will leave the coliseum 45 minutes after graduation. For more information, contact Michael Kuehn at

“It will be a great honor for me to have the opportunity to share my story with so many others who at one point or another in their life have struggled to accomplish their dreams,” he said. “My story might be different from students who are graduating this year, but I know for a fact that we all have gone through so many barriers and difficulties in our journey in order to part of the PCC class of 2012.”

In April, Estanis, with his flag of Haiti, marched with fellow PCC students in the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade.

In April, Estanis, with his flag of Haiti, marched with fellow PCC students in the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade.

The native of Les Cayes, Haiti said he will tell his story of assisting international aid organizations in his country which led to him meeting Gail Buck and Angelina Sams of Healing Hands for Haiti. From there, on their encouragement and his desire to study abroad, he traveled to Portland in 2009 to attend PCC as a business major.

“In spite of many, many obstacles, Ewald has persevered and succeeded,” said Julie Kopet, dean of instruction at the Southeast Center and Estanis’ nominator for graduation speaker. “I know that students, faculty and families will be moved by his struggles and his overcoming those struggles to become a leader and stellar member of the PCC alumni.”

Kopet is right. Estanis, whose father passed away when he was 17 and was raised by his mother, has cultivated a 3.5 grade-point average while at PCC. The bumps in adapting to a new country were smoothed from the support he got at the college from instructors and staff, from District President Preston Pulliams and Southeast President Craig Kolins, and from many others. As a result, he has risen through the ranks of the student government Leadership Program to become the student body president of the Southeast Center. As part of his service, he got to meet with U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and other elected officials recently in Washington, D.C.

Once he leaves PCC, Estanis plans to earn a bachelor degree in business with a minor in political science to allow him to set up businesses in Haiti and the United States. He is currently working on his first book, and even has plans to run for elected office in Haiti someday.

“I want to see what I can do for my community,” he added. “To me giving back to the community doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be president, but you have to be a responsible citizen. I want to run for my town’s elected office, because I believe we have enough resources to satisfy the needs of my people. All we need now is just the right people in the right places. And my experience in America gives me a bigger vision of how prosperous my wonderful Haiti can be if all citizens contribute.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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x by Jacques Stevenson St Gelus 5 years ago

Sak pase? I feel so proud to read your story not only because it is really fascinating but also because I’m a Haitian too. I’ve been at PCC for one year. I’m majoring in Nursing. I’m back in Haiti now because of the death of my little brother.I know what it feels like to be away from home.I was in Haiti when the earthquake hit, but was safe. Anyway, I hope you succeed in everything you’ll be doing in your life.

x by E. Estanis 5 years ago

Respekte Zanmim! Thank you very much brother for all your compliments and words of encouragements. I cannot comprehend how difficult this time must be for you. I am so sorry for your lost. I will make sure to keep you and your family in my prayers. May God Bless you. “L’Union Fait La Force”

x by olivier elize 5 years ago

Boss pa’m sakap bay la ?
Monche mwen te sezi anpil le’m mwe paj a montre foto yon lot aysyen parey mwen. I was just gonna check for my classes and I see your story, It feels good to know that there is haitian presence in Oregon, particularly PCC.


x by E. Dinvil 5 years ago

Sak pase? I am so so proud of your accomplishments! Le sa bon, ann dil bon! Lots and lots of success…

Keep reaching for the stars where you belong!

x by Clint 5 years ago

Dear Estanis,

Your story is very moving. I can admire the love you have for your people and what you are willing to give back. Estanis may all of your dreams and desire for your people come true!



x by MIa Park 5 years ago

For the whole time I was sitting next to you in class, I had no idea about where you came from and what you have gone through. I wish only the best for you. I wish that I could have talked to you more. The world is small. I hope to see you succeed!! Mia

x by Isaac Sunday 5 years ago

Ewald, I’m impressed and thankful for all your endeavor. I feel very proud for some of us who came from less developed countries like Haiti, Cameroon and other African nations who have made their way into United States and devote their precious time to think about their fellow brothers and sisters back home. Keep the hard work and have hope, be courageous in all you do, you will always succeed. (1colintian 9:24)
God bless you
Isaac PCC RC

x by Gery 5 years ago

Congratulations on your graduation and overcoming fear on that difficult time for Haiti (2010). Remember the dutch boy at the dikes as the sea swelled. Some similarity. Aleikum salam.

x by Katie Edwards 5 years ago

WOW!!! Ewald, you are an inspiration for all. You are living your life to its fullest potential. Your story is what dreams are made of and I am soooooooo happy to know that true heroes really exist. Thank you so much for being who you are. The world is in your debt. Lots-O-Love and Luck for you and your’s in all your future work and wants. Once again…WOW!!!!!!!!!!!

x by Jacques S. St Gelus 5 years ago

Hey, Estanis. Let’s meet one time at South East Center. M gen yon klas pyschologie kem genyen nan campus sa chak mardi apres midi. Email me at Yow, ou se ayisyen parey mw baz, fok mw kontre avew kan mem man. hit me up!!

x by Website 4 years ago

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