From humble beginnings to academic success, grad speaker shows what’s possible
When Xiaofeng “Moon” Detering began taking intensive English language classes four years ago, it took her more than two hours, one way, to get to the Cascade Campus in North Portland from her home in Hillsboro. The long trip included a walk to the bus stop, taking a bus to the train stop, riding the train to another bus station, and then one more bus ride to campus.
“One time I got lost and couldn’t communicate with the bus driver,” Detering remembered. “I knew very limited English and couldn’t complete a full sentence. I couldn’t drive myself, so it was very scary. It was dark, rainy, and cold, and I just couldn’t get him to understand me no matter what I tried, and that terrified me. But I didn’t let that incident stop me from attending classes at Cascade Campus, because I promised myself that I would make it.”
Detering did make it. She continued taking beginner ESOL classes to build her reading, writing, and speaking skills. After a year at Cascade and another year at Rock Creek learning English, the 28-year-old worked on her associate degree, cultivated a nearly 3.7 grade point average and, along with her work with student government and Phi Theta Kappa (two-year honors society), was rewarded with a 2016-2017 All Oregon Academic Team Scholarship ($1,000). In the fall, she will transfer to Portland State University to study business marketing.
And best of all, she was selected as student speaker for Portland Community College’s 55th commencement ceremony at 7 p.m., Friday, June 16 in the Memorial Coliseum, 300 N. Winning Way. She will join 800 graduates, who will walk across the stage to receive their associate degree or certificate. Nearly 5,300 total degrees and certificates have been awarded this year.“PCC has helped me find myself and broaden my horizons,” she said. “I’ll never forget my past or humble beginnings, but I would have never succeeded without PCC.”
Detering was born in Sichuan, which is a poor, undeveloped and mountainous region in China. The family moved to Zhuhai near Macau and Hong Kong where they lived in a small one-room apartment and could work in the city. But her parents, who never went to college, always struggled to provide. To say the least, Detering’s odds of going to college herself were very low.
“I suffered from both hunger and lack of education,” she said. “When I was a child in China, all I could think about was food. As a teenager I made the decision to drop out of school to support my family financially. My parents worked very hard, and they taught me that you deserve what you work for. School wasn’t important then, but making money to support them was.”
Detering worked in many roles in China — as a dishwasher, shoe factory worker, internet bar attendant, modeling and photography agency representative, and bike shop staffer, renting bicycles to tourists.
Eventually, she was able to put enough money together and took out a loan from friends to start her own bike shop. She ran it like a well-oiled, one-woman machine, running the budget, coordinating the brand development, and overseeing day-to-day operations. Not only was she moving up in the world, but by happenstance, met her future husband Andrew, who travels in his job as a computer engineer with Intel in Hillsboro. They fell in love riding together on long bike rides and eventually would marry, causing her to make the trek to the Northwest to be with him.
“Oregon is very different from China, “ she reflected. “Your perspective changes when you live in another country and are having to interact with people who are different from you.”
PCC is Opportunity
After working on her English skills at Cascade and Rock Creek, Detering jumped right into her classes. She never missed a class and attended as many extra-curricular events as she could, like joining Phi Theta Kappa and ASPCC this past year.
“Starting from the bottom, I learned English in only two years before beginning my associate degree,” she beamed. “My success could not have happened without the support of many people at Portland Community College and others, including my husband.”
Her confidence grew as she volunteered and received tutoring, and she worked more for Rock Creek’s student government office (ASPCC) as clubs coordinator. It was a way, she said, for her to give back and help others. Detering had been given assistance from fellow students and wanted to give her classmates the same opportunities.
“There are so many resources within PCC that give us the opportunity to advance ourselves in both the personal and academic realms,” she said. “There’s the Student Learning Center, Writing Center, Women’s Resources Center, Multicultural Center, and Student Government. The more engaged and connected we are with the college, the more we have access to success.”
Detering cited DeLinda Martin-Huggins (assistant student leadership coordinator at Rock Creek) and Mandy Ellertson (Rock Creek’s student life and leadership development manager) as staff who helped her reach her academic potential. She said the two helped coax skills out of her that she never knew she had, like teamwork, public speaking, event planning, interpersonal, and more.
“Mandy is a really good role model for students to learn, and she leads by action,” Detering recalled. “Mandy fosters a student’s own style of leadership, and she has taught me the beauty of humanity. DeLinda never complains, is really humble. She supports students to the best of her ability.”
The Future is Bright
Detering said she has her path mapped out, through PSU and beyond. She wants to continue helping a Chinese martial arts academy for ongoing success (it has local, regional and national champions), as well as spread awareness of her culture.
But for now, what will she say to her fellow grads?
“Our hard work has paid off,” she said. “Now, it’s our responsibility to show the world what we can accomplish.”