Over the din of the cheering crowd assembled Thursday in the Linn County Expo Center's Willamette Hall, one little voice called out: “That’s my mom!”
Linn-Benton Community College’s 51st commencement saw a crowd of graduates made up of single parents, an addict who had 12 years clean, a veteran who had served in Iraq and Syria, an immigrant who worked the fields in the summer and is now the first in her family to graduate college, and Shelby Pick.
Pick, the outgoing student body president, was designated as this year’s student speaker. A member of the Air Force reserve, she worked four jobs and went to school part-time. She’s transferring to Oregon State University in the fall.
“Community colleges are the essence of how we benefit our local communities,” she said. “You did this to better us,” she told graduates, noting that their accomplishments stretched beyond themselves and into their friends, families and communities.
The importance of community colleges was a cornerstone of Thursday’s ceremony with Gov. Kate Brown acting as keynote speaker, calling LBCC a special place that was contributing to the success of Oregon’s businesses and industries. In a statement announcing her attendance, LBCC President Greg Hamann said the governor “very much understands that community college graduates are celebrating an absolutely pivotal achievement by earning their degrees.”
Brown, citing several stories from the class of 2019 that exemplified obstacles for low-income students, congratulated the graduates, some of whom turned their back when she began to speak.
“Each dark moment along the way when you weren’t sure you were going to make it, the babysitter cancelled, you had to work another shift or your car broke down again, you graduates here today embody the Oregon way,” she said.
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Hamann also drew attention to community spirit when, fighting back tears, he bestowed an honorary degree to Shelly Garrett, a former LBCC Board of Education member and active member of the community who passed away in April.
“Our community is simply stronger because of Shelly. She will be missed,” he said.
Hamann also honored fellow community member Chris Hanson with the Distinguished Alumni Award. Hanson, who graduated from LBCC in 1988, told graduates, “LBCC gave me the skills and knowledge to know that whatever I set out to do, I could do. You can do the same.”
LBCC awarded 838 students with 1,000 degrees this year with 350 graduates walking during the ceremony on Thursday.
Hamann ended the commencement by wishing the graduates luck.
“You are great,” he said. “You will change the world. You’ve changed us. Go out there and do it.”