Awen Moon Gatten will speak about overcoming personal challenges to pursue education, personal passion

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Awen Moon Gatten, center, speaks with a group of students at St. Helens High School during a Cocoa and Cram study session on Tuesday, June 5. Gatten works as a mentor and tutor at the high school and will be a student speaker at the Portland Community College graduation next week.  
A Columbia City woman who also works with local high school students was selected to be a speaker during Portland Community College's graduation ceremony Friday, June 15.

Awen Moon Gatten, 49, a mentor and tutor at St. Helens High School, was selected to speak at the PCC graduation ceremony, and will center her speech around overcoming personal obstacles and finding a path in life as a nontraditional student.

Gatten, who is a survivor of domestic and sexual abuse, explained the circumstances that led to her need to make changes in her life. In 2010, Gatten and her son, Jackson, left her former abusive husband, who later died in 2013. In January 2017, Gatten's father, who had also abused her, died.

Those experiences made her feel like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, she explained. In summer 2017, Gatten legally changed her name from "Sharon" to Awen Moon. Awen is a Welsh word meaning "inspiration," and the symbol of the moon represents a strong feminine presence, she explained.

Gatten said she was eventually encouraged by her current husband, Curtis Gatten, whom she married in 2016, to pursue higher education to discover her potential and other passions through PCC.

"He believed in me when I didn't believe in me. He got me to realize that I wanted more for my life than what I had been settling for, because I'd been settling my whole life," Gatten said.

Before attending PCC, Gatten held a variety of jobs,

working in retail, medical offices, bank branches and

insurance agencies, but never truly found her niche, she said.

"As a nontraditional student, I feel that I have a story to share because of my life experience, and not just because of the abuse, but life experience in general, going from job to job, career path to career path, and not really finding my niche," Gatten said.

Initially, Gatten wanted to pursue a career as a child counselor, but while studying, she rediscovered a personal passion for mathematics, which she hopes to teach at the high school level.

In 2016 she also began working at St. Helens High School as an AVID tutor and mentor with the Aspire program. AVID stands for "Advancement Via Individual Determination," and the program focuses on students who typically fall in the middle-range of academics. The goal is to help them consider college and career options early on and take control of their own education.

Working with those students, Gatten realized she enjoyed instructing students and helping them identify new ways of approaching their education. It also helped inspire her to pursue new challenges in her life, she said.

"I like to think that they've given back to me as much as I've given to them," Gatten said of the students. "Because truly just working at the high school and working with teenagers and working with them to help them find the steps they need to succeed here and in their lives, that's motivated me in my own life."

Gatten will graduate with a 4.0 grade point average, has been chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, and was recently elected to serve as the northern district executive director for the Rocky Mountain Cascade region PTK group. She is also a recipient of All-Academic Team Scholarship this year, as well as a PCC Foundation Scholarship, according to a press release from PCC.

During the graduation ceremony, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley will also be a guest speaker. The ceremony will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, June 15, at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 300 N. Winning Way in Portland.

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