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PCC’s commencement speaker inspires many to finish their degrees

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Tigard resident Michelle Reers is going to be a scientist.

Don’t be surprised if you keep hearing that over and over from her on Friday, June 14. Reers is the student speaker for PCC’s 51st graduation ceremony at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Coliseum, 1401 N. Wheeler. In front of thousands of friends, families and fellow graduates, Reers will discuss her story of getting off drugs and going on to earn two associate’s degrees the past two years. But what she’ll talk about most is her ability to inspire those around her to go to college and work toward their associate’s degrees – like her 20-year-old daughter and her current husband Cen Reers, an employee with the college’s Facilities Management Services, to name a few.

“It will be the proudest day of my life,” she said. “That is, until next summer when my daughter gets her degree. That’s my accomplishment; that’s my greatest thing. My family’s future is going to change and I helped set that future.

PCC's student speaker is headed to Oregon State University’s Honors College to study botany so she can help save the environment.

PCC’s student speaker is headed to Oregon State University’s Honors College to study botany so she can help save the environment.

“The whole reason I’m here now is so much less about me, and the things I’ve done, but about encouraging others,” she added. “Last graduation, I had a gal come up to me and thank me that it was because of me that she was graduating. That I was an inspiration to her; I was so glad. I don’t know exactly what I said or did; I just hope to keep doing it.”

At age 45, Reers is earning her transfer degree this year after getting her associate’s degree in general studies and an accounting certificate last year. Her story consists of getting a second chance at redemption through college. She had tried attending a university back in 1986, but lasted just one term and soon became pregnant with her first child. After ending a 10-year marriage to the father of her three children, a meth addiction, bad friendships and poor workplace conditions were ruling her life. She decided it just wasn’t worth it anymore.

“I just never felt I was the person everyone labeled me to be and I made the decision to get off meth for my children,” Reers said. “I love my children and I didn’t want to lose them. I made that choice to change my life and their lives.”

As a kid, her parents had divorced and her father didn’t consider a college education important. “‘You’ll never amount to anything and you’ll be no good,’ was said in many different ways,” Reers recalled. “I spent ten years hearing that.”

When her sister earned an associate’s degree a few years ago at PCC, it gave her even more reason to get back to school. At PCC, Reers heard different, far more positive things. People like Stephen Arthur (clubs and programs specialist), Colleen Pittinger (student activities office assistant), Cami Bishop (Sylvania Campus student leadership coordinator), Jenn Sonntag (fundraising and alumni officer with the Foundation), Linda Gerber (Sylvania president), and more, helped her find her way and gave encouragement. Thanks to this support, she began to succeed and earned two Miller Foundation scholarships through the PCC Foundation along the way that kept her going.

“The woman blows my mind on a daily basis,” Sonntag said. “She’s inspired so many of her fellow students, her instructors and advisors to get out, and make changes in their communities.”

Now meth free for close to a decade, Reers has big plans to be a field researcher once she gets her bachelor’s degree.

Now meth free for close to a decade, Reers has big plans to be a field researcher once she gets her bachelor’s degree.

Today, the hard work paid off as Reers will graduate with a 3.84 grade-point average. In her time at the college she has been named to President’s and Dean’s lists, given the Phi Theta Kappa’s Dave Arter Achievement and Distinguished Member Regional awards and named to the 2013 Oregon Community College Association All Oregon Academic Team. She also served as president of the Sylvania PTK chapter Alpha Eta Iota, worked on the college’s student senate and volunteered for numerous college programs. Reers is now headed to Oregon State University’s Honors College to study botany so she can help save the environment.

“I do have to remind her to breathe on occasion and have whiplash from trying to follow her as she zooms between projects,” said Bishop. “She teaches me something new each time we meet and I feel privileged to have known her. At graduation, I know her story will move everyone who hears her speak.”

Now meth free for close to a decade, Reers has big plans to be a field researcher once she gets her bachelor’s degree. Or maybe when she gets her master’s or her doctorate. You see, Michelle Reers isn’t going to slow down when it comes to education. It’s the new cycle she is establishing for herself and anyone who is around her.

“The only way to change that cycle was to go and get a degree,” Reers said. “Now, I’m going to be a scientist. When I first said that I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had to say it about six times that I was going to be a scientist. It feels really good.”

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 jenn 4 years ago

You are powerful, Michelle! So proud of you…I’ll be the gal in the back of the coliseum, whoopin’ and hollerin’ when you traipse across that stage.

x by Stories of inspiration highlight 51st PCC graduation | PCC News 4 years ago

[…] resident Michelle Reers is earning her transfer degree this year after getting her associate’s degree in general studies […]

x by Robert Williams 4 years ago

Congratulations Michelle on your success and good luck to you in the future.

x by Anna A 4 years ago

BRAVO I am so proud and inspired and yes you inspired me as well LOL

x by Malia Gayagas 4 years ago

Amazing journey you have been on Michelle. You should be so very proud of your accomplishments and overcoming. I met you the in the fall in the ladies locker room. We both were from Hawaii. I must say in short time I knew you and the bits of conversation here and there, inspired me as well. Thank you! And good work! Best of luck to you in your future.

x by Hilary Davis 4 years ago

I knew you would be successful when I first met you. I am so proud of you, through all your challenges you have come out on top…way up on top. Way to go, I cannot wait to see you, It’s been a while. I will be graduating along side you, we both did it!

x by Ceneth Reers 4 years ago

There are no words to describe the amount of pride and joy I have for my wife. She constantly inspires and drives me to be a better person and for that i am eternally grateful. I love you, Shell.

x by Michael 4 years ago

Congrats Michelle. Being in recovery myself, I understand the struggles that come along with it. Getting not 1 but 2 associates degrees in two years is an amazing accomplishment. I wish you well in your future endeavors. We only have have one day at a time.

x by Kathleen 4 years ago

You’ve set your goals high, Michelle, but have your feet planted on the ground. Your decision to change your life has resulted in setting up a healthy new standard for your children. Congratulations on showing them (and your future grandchildren) a path to a more stable and successful life!

x by mona 4 years ago

Congrats Michelle for being a great inspiration to many! You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can get there only by hard work and what you’ll discover will be yourself. And there’s no doubt that nothing will hold you back from continued success;-)

x by Elwais Gregorio 4 years ago

You are an amazing woman. You are an inspiration to many people. Congratz and I wish you the very best in your future endeavors. God Bless!!!

x by Shasha 4 years ago

This is the woman I remember looking up to before the meth addiction. THIS is my sister. An independent force to be reckoned with! I am so proud of you, for one- for pushing me through when I went through school, and two, because one day, if I can get over my fear of writing research papers, and figure out exactly “what I want to be when I grow up,” I just may return to school. You are an inspiration to me once again, that is priceless. I love you so much Sissyroo!!!

x by Kim 4 years ago

What a wonderful success story and a perfect speaker at our graduation ceremony.

x by Patrice 4 years ago

Congratulations!!! I am so excited for you! You go girl! I still remember when we first met in the math lab. I treasure the times we’ve shared our dreams, frustrations in meeting our goals. You did it! and I’m not far behind. I look forward to routing you on at graduation! Let’s keep in touch. Remember, I am here cheering you on! We are kindred spirits!

x by Michelle Reers 4 years ago

Thank you to everyone for all of the support, not just now, but all along. I do not have enough time to mention all those I hold so dear for all you have done and would be afraid to miss some one. I hope you all know who you are, Lily, Jen, Dr. Gerber, Stephen, Cami, Colleen, Daisy, John, Velda…….and so many more. Thank you once again for helping to change my views and my life. Michelle

x by Meriam 4 years ago

Your speech was so empowering! You glowed like a light shining light bulb! Congrats!!

x by Velda 4 years ago

I am so proud of you, Michelle. This was beautifully written, and I hope someone recorded your speech because I would love to hear or see it. I am looking forward to your future endeavors! Hugs!!

x by Bam 4 years ago

All that tax payer funded education and she still will not be able to get a job that pays a decent wage.

x by Lily Waldman 4 years ago


I am so proud of what you have achieved so far. I can wait to hear more about your successful stories. I love to have known you since we were in PTK together. I have always loved your spirit and how you want to always help others! Lots of hugs and kisses for you.