For the first time in more than 40 years, Clatsop Community College held graduation on campus.
The ceremony took place Friday inside the mostly finished, three-story, cavernous gymnasium of the $16 million Patriot Hall redevelopment, a project paid for through state bonds and local property taxes.
The graduation, including 158 two-year degrees and one-year certificates, highlighted the local and state investment in the college. Chris Nemlowill, the co-owner of Fort George Brewery, was the commencement speaker and spoke of his own journey to making an investment in Astoria.
The graduates, coming from communities throughout Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties and Pacific County in Washington state, ranged from teenagers to those in their 70s. They included a variety of university-bound academic transfers, as well as firefighters, vessel operators, nurses, medical assistants, historic preservationists, welders, auto mechanics and computer designers.
Headlining the graduates were the college’s two members of the All-Oregon Community College Academic Team, Haley Werst and Christopher Patenaude, along with Christopher Breitmeyer’s inaugural President’s Award winner, nursing graduate Liliana Diaz.
Werst, president of the college’s Phi Theta Kappa honors society and campus cosplay club, is also a member of the college’s underwater robotics team competing in the international finals next weekend in Long Beach, California. She is headed to Portland State University to study film.
Patenaude told his story of struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as a young adult, becoming interested in coding and coming into his own at the college, where he would be named to the honors society, a NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar and intern at the IceCube South Pole Neutrino Observatory in Wisconsin. Patenaude will attend Oregon State University to study engineering.
Take the bat
In his first graduation as college president, Breitmeyer reminded students to take hold of the opportunities presented to them.
Breitmeyer, a biologist by training, said was a graduate student releasing insects with a research partner in the Sonoran Desert as part of an ecological study when he ran into what appeared to be two hunters. One offered him the bloody stump and wing of a bat for his study, which his partner advised him to take. Breitmeyer said he declined, and later got shot at. The hunters, he said, were trying to shoot a better bat to offer to the study, and this time he didn’t turn them down.
“When you have an opportunity, lean forward and say ‘yes,’” Breitmeyer said, adding this became his mantra. “It might not look like the best thing for you to do, but it’s better to say ‘yes’ than ‘no.’ It’s better to try something than to not try something.
“I don’t know what the hell I would have done with that bat. But if I would have took it, I wouldn’t have gotten shot at.”
Do what you love
Nemlowill, who graduated from the college in 2001, remembered taking classes in the stuffy confines of the old Patriot Hall, built in 1921. Afterward, Nemlowill said, he left for Southern Oregon University to earn a degree in marketing and computer science to join the dot-com boom and make his fortune.
The dot-com bubble burst, and Nemlowill’s grandmother fell and broke her hip on the day of graduation in 2003. While taking care of her, Nemlowill checked some books out from the local library and learned a new passion: brewing beer.
Presented with the possibility of an internship at computer chip-making giant Intel, Nemlowill instead opted to move back in with his parents in Astoria and brew in their basement. He worked his way into the local brewing scene, linked up with fellow Fort George co-owner Jack Harris and started his dream in 2006. Fort George has since grown from a small brewpub into one of Astoria’s largest companies, employing 120 people and helping put the city on the craft beer map.
“You guys have got the foundation to do whatever you want,” Nemlowill told the graduates. “I feel like you guys are really prepared for what you guys will do next. Make sure that what you do next, the career that you take, that you look forward to going to work everyday, because I think that is just really important. You’ve worked so hard. You don’t want to waste that on something you don’t love doing.”