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Portland Tribune: Graduates old and young take flight
Author: Shasta Kearns Moore, Portland Tribune
Posted: June 11, 2015

Read the original story in the Portland Tribune. 

Portland State University will graduate more than 6,000 students, ages 19 to 77
TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Zaynab Alattar, 19, and Michelle Reed, 77, are the youngest and oldest graduates at Portland State University this year. One looks to the future of technology and the other scours relics of the past.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Zaynab Alattar, 19, and Michelle Reed, 77, are the youngest and oldest graduates at Portland State University this year. One looks to the future of technology and the other scours relics of the past.


One woman was born in 1938. The other in 1996. But both are graduating from Portland State University this Sunday with their first bachelor’s degree.

Tigard resident Zaynab Alattar, 19, will receive a Bachelor of Science in computer science after being homeschooled and earning her GED when she was 16.

“How ‘bout you?” Alattar asks Michelle Reed, a 77-year-old former emergency room nurse who will receive a Bachelor of Science in anthropology.

“It’s a long story,” Reed says.

Reed has lived in places as far-flung as Saudi Arabia, but Portland feels like home. She lives within walking distance of PSU’s Park Blocks in a senior living complex.

Reed says she has loved attending PSU and getting to know the youth culture around her, meeting gay people and learning about marijuana.

“Which, you know, in my generation, we didn’t even know about,” she says. “It was just so enlightening. I just loved talking to people. There’s a lot of really bright kids out there today.”

Reed herself has three children and four grandchildren, two of whom are also graduating this weekend, one from high school and the other from the University of Oregon.

Reed says she has always been the type of person to keep busy, so earning her degree at such a late stage in life doesn’t seem like a big deal.

“Why not use it as long as I can? There are still people in their 80s doing what they love,” she says.

What Reed loves is holding ancient objects in her hands, as she does in her work in Professor Shelby Anderson’s archaeology lab analyzing artifacts from a dig in Alaska. The department gave her an award for being the oldest graduate they had ever had.

“I told them it was the only thing I’d gotten for being old that didn’t hurt,” Reed says with a laugh.

Alattar, on the other hand, is the youngest of four siblings, all of whom have already graduated from PSU. She was raised and homeschooled by a Palestinian father and American mother, both of whom have degrees in electrical engineering. After her siblings left home for college, the house felt very empty for Alattar, who had been used to having her two brothers and sister around all the time.

“I eventually got bored with being home and decided to take a few classes at PSU while I waited to turn 16 to take the GED,” she says. “After I had my GED, I formally applied and was accepted, and can honestly say it’s been a journey.”

Alattar took a while to decide on her course of study, dabbling in dentistry, biology and graphic design until hitting on computer science (CS).

“The method of thinking and problem-solving that’s taught and reinforced throughout the four years can be used not just in CS, but in so many other aspects of life,” she says.

Alattar says she hopes to get a job at a tech company in Portland in network systems administration or support engineering.

As this year’s oldest and youngest PSU graduates part ways, Reed tells Alattar good luck and assures her that she will go far.

“It’s a tough time to be graduating,” Reed says, noting that in contrast to modern student debt, when she got her nursing degree in Los Angeles decades ago, a university cost $300 per term, and a community college just $6.50 plus books.

“Wow,” Alattar says. “I should get a time machine.”

 


 

 

PSU CLASS OF 2015

 

(Estimates as of Friday, May 15)

 

4,250 Bachelor’s degrees

1,725 Master’s degrees

90 Doctoral degrees

6,065 Total degree

58 percentage of female students

42 percentage of female students

26 percentage of minority* students

81 percentage of total degrees going to Oregonians

*African American, Native American, Latino, Asian American, Pacific

Islander, multi-racial (does not include international students)

The graduating class represents 45 states and 51 different nations.

Top three states: Washington, California, Texas

Top three nations: India, China, Saudi Arabia

Top five majors: psychology, health studies, social science,

criminology and criminal justice, communication

 

Source: Portland State University