By Chris Cunningham
Student Alan Overwater says that over the span of 18 years he was taking classes at Lane Community College, he always felt part of an educational community that honors diversity.
LCC is a place that acknowledges personal struggles and provides opportunities for success even when life hurls a hardball, says Overwater, who also works part-time as a swim instructor at a local athletic club.
For Overwater, formidable barriers—homelessness, mental illness and learning disabilities—prevented him from earning a degree as quickly as he might have liked.
Perhaps the courage he has gained through his long struggles gave him the gumption to compete in and win the honor of giving the student commencement speech on June 14.
Graduating this month with a 3.5 GPA and a two-year transfer degree, Overwater says school has been a "struggle," and that he was only able to take "one or two classes at a time."
But, attending classes at Lane helped "normalize" his life, especially between 2006 and 2009, when he lived on the street and couch surfed. "Lane helped keep my mind from being in the dumps," he says.
LCC's Disability Resources made certain that the college accommodated the 36-year-old man's special needs, such as ensuring that his instructors give him additional time to take tests and find quiet locations where he wouldn't be distracted.
While he admits he hasn't talked in front of a large audience before, Overwater says he's not nervous. "I know the speech," he explains. "It's my story."
Next year, he will begin coursework toward a bachelor's degree in the Exercise and Sports Science program at Oregon State University. In time, he hopes to earn a master's degree in Adaptive Recreation, a field he developed a personal interest in as a Special Olympics volunteer.
When Overwater tells his story this month, he hopes one or two people in the audience who have delayed returning to school will take the chance—even if the very idea seems daunting.