From humble beginnings to academic success, grad speaker shows what’s possible

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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 overcame poverty in China to become an academic success at PCC.

Detering overcame poverty in China to become an academic success at PCC.

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.”
Humble Beginnings

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.”

Moon Detering is the 2017 student speaker.

Moon Detering is the 2017 student speaker.

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.”

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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There are 21 comment for this article. If you see something that doesn't belong, please click the x and report it.

x by Nista Shrestha 8 months ago

So happy for you Moon! Congratulations for your successful journey. I am excited to hear you at the commencement ceremony.

x by Adrian Hawk 8 months ago

Good Job Moon!! I’m looking forward to your speech. =)

x by Narce Rodriguez 8 months ago

Moon: So proud of all of your accomplishments. Keep the dream going. Narce

x by Elaine Cole 8 months ago

The Sustainability Office at PCC Rock Creek is so happy to have helped you on your journey. I am so happy for you Moon and you are a great representative for this year’s graduation ceremony.


x by Guohong Chen 8 months ago

Moon: I am so proud that you are doing well at PCC. You are a smart and beautiful girl. Congratulations and best wishes!

-Guohong Chen

x by Faduma Saleh 8 months ago

I’m so happy and so the RC Henna Club members! I know life is very hard when you live it in a different perspective: it feels like you are living someone else’s times. As it’s hard and challenging to overcome obstacles like these, it took a strong and motivated women like yourself to map-out these out of the way. Even though I came to know you about one year ago, it felt like I’ve known you my whole life as you opened not only your home door for me, but your warm heart. I’m very glad to come to know you!
Congratulations Moon!

x by Darren Le 8 months ago

You are so amazing, although I’m sure that is of no surprise to anyone who knows you. You are an intelligent, kind, and altruistic individual all at the same time. I want to thank you for your genuine kindness and brief friendship in the short period I’ve known you. I wish you the best of everything!!! Congratulations!

x by Heather Beck 8 months ago

Yay!! Moon !!! So happy for you ! You are truly an inspiration and I’m so happy we were able to hang out at the Spring conference for PTK and travel around Hood River and Portland areas together. I know your speech will be exceptional, I wish you all the best.

x by joey 8 months ago

That is such an amazing story! Congrats. I am currently locked up at oak creek youth correctional facility and I’m trying to make my way through college and its so tough.

x by Marguerite Barton 8 months ago

I’m so excited for you, Moon! You deserve this. I can’t wait to see you giving the commencement speech.

x by Jenny Kirchler 8 months ago

I knew you were special when I first met you. You are an amazing individual full of energy, positivity and love. I’d really enjoyed reading your story and can’t wait to hear your commencement speech. Continue to be the role model that you are!!!

x by Patrick 8 months ago

Congratulations fellow PCC Alumni. May your continued education and experience here in a different country, be amazing and fullfilling. Opportunity. Now. Then. Always.

x by Scott Birk 8 months ago

Moon was a student of mine in a couple of classes. What a great ambassador for PCC! You’ve accomplished so much! Congratulations!

x by ana coca 8 months ago

Beautiful story, I touched by that. I hope you continue your career success that is wonderful. Thanks for helping as model to all of us who started in ESOL classes. You always be a PCC! Good job. Congratulations!

x by Colleen Blohm 8 months ago

Great job, Moon! I knew the first day you walked into my Intensive English class that you were special. You were so dedicated to learning and a wonderful role model for everyone. I am so proud of how high you have soared and look forward to hearing about your further accomplishments.

x by Edit McDonald 8 months ago

Congratulations, Moon! Only a few years ago, you were in my ESOL Level 5 Communication class, working hard and getting an A! Your smile was infectious and lifted everyone’s spirit during class. What an accomplishment! I also remember your delicious BBQ-ed peaches you brought to a Learning Garden event.
Good luck at PSU!

x by Suzanne Brauer, RC PE Instructor 8 months ago

We danced together in Ballet during Winter Quarter. Your sweet smile always made my attitude change when I came in tired from my day of teaching. Your accomplishments are amazing. Education is a measure of persistence. Your perseverance has proved you will be successful at PSU and beyond. Keeping dancing… Love and blessings to you. Take care.

x by Ida 8 months ago

Congratulations on your achievement, Xiaofeng! Your achievement is the result of your hard work and fearless spirit. Keep it up! Whether you are fluent in English or not, coming from a different part of the world is a constant learning process. It is very hard and sometimes it seems impossible to overcome the obstacles and barriers you face every day. It takes strength, courage and fearlessness to face the challenges and navigate to the bright future that is ahead. With the help and support of good teachers who embrace their students’ cultural background it can empower students to use their potential and make a huge difference. Great teachers like that build a bridge between what students know and what they need to learn to integrate and adapt into the new society and culture in order make it to the next level and succeed their goals.

They are many amazing students like yourself so be proud your accomplishment. Again, congrats and wish all the best on your future endeavors!

x by Laura 8 months ago

This is an inspiring story! Moon, thank you for sharing your story. Thank you PCC for opening doors. I look forward to my graduation in 1 year!

x by Judith Barr 8 months ago

Dear Moon,
CONGRATULATIONS! I love your story and shall share it with my ESOL students.
It’s students like you at PCC who inspire their classmates to keep reaching for their own dreams, no matter what their circumstances.
You also inspire us, your teachers, to seek new ways to help our students learn, to search for the best in each student and offer encouragement and guidance. Playing a small part in a student’s success brings joy that lasts a lifetime.

x by Erin Latta 8 months ago

Moon, you are an inspiration for many students–both foreign and native. I truly hope for the best for you and I truly believe you’ll be going for. The biggest CONGRATULATIONS to you!

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