May 21, 2012

Leon Goggans smiled when he remembered his reaction to a Multnomah County judge giving him a chance to get his GED at Donald H. Londer Learning Center two years ago. Goggans’ reaction? “You’ve got to be kidding.” Yet two years later on May 17, 2012, Goggans celebrated his completion of the program as one of 86 graduates this year from Londer Learning Center.

This year’s annual graduation ceremony also marked the 1000th graduate from Londer Learning Center since the program began giving adults on probation, parole and re-entry from prison and jail a chance to catch up on education as a key step toward becoming more productive members of society.

After drawing a laugh from the nearly 200 people attending the graduation ceremony by recounting his “you’ve got to be kidding” reaction, Goggins drew applause when he displayed his newest badge of honor: a student ID card from Portland Community College.

“I’m studying to be a drug and alcohol counselor,” said Goggans, wearing a blue cap and gown for the graduation in the Multnomah County board room.

“Each of you in this room has had some real challenges,” said Scott Taylor, director of Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice. “You looked at that and made a decision to change your life.”

Seven out of every ten participants show gains in learning after they enroll in Londer’s GED and pre-employment program. Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen urged graduates to continue building on those gains.

“I want each of you to think of this not as an end but as a beginning,” Cogen said. “Think of it as the next step.”

This year’s graduation ceremony paid tribute to Londer Learning Center co-founder John Ryan, a retired lawyer who co-founded the center in 1993 with the late presiding Judge Donald Londer. Ryan died on Dec. 18 at age 91. His widow Virginia attended the graduation and stood in the receiving line to shake each graduate’s hand as they accepted their certificates to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

The 1000th graduate of the GED and pre-employment program, Kasty Brown, spoke of getting busted while drinking on a sidewalk in downtown Portland and feeling grateful that the judge told her to attend Londer.

An aspiring chef who now hopes to attend classes at PCC, Brown credits her instructors at  Londer Learning Center with continuing to work with her as she battled homelessness and alcoholism to complete the coursework over a 3 1-2-year stretch.

“I couldn’t have done it without you guys,”” Brown told her instructors at the May 17 ceremony. “I feel like you guys accept everyone for who they are.”

Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith praised both the graduates for putting in the tough work needed to complete the program, and their families for supporting them.

“I know it’s not easy to go back to school to get a GED as an adult,” Smith said. “What you have done is amazing and what your families have done is amazing.

“This is not the ceiling. It’s the floor,” Smith said. “You can do more. Go forward.”