June 6, 2014

When Portland Judge Donald H. Londer and attorney John Ryan founded the Londer Learning Center, they envisioned a program where education was an alternative to incarceration.

The Department of Community Justice’s Londer Learning Center continues to prove more than two decades later its worth as an adult education program created to serve people making the transition from jail, prison or treatment centers.

In the center’s first year, four adult graduates received their GEDs. Twenty-one years later, on Thursday, June 5, 125 students earned their GEDs. Those students comprised the largest graduating class in the Londer Learning Center’s history. 

“This is a magnificent program for people who wouldn’t normally have this opportunity in the community,” said Department of Community Justice Assistant Director Truls Neal.   

Family and friends filled the board room of the Multnomah County Building to support their loved ones in the graduating class of 2014. Excitement and joy filled the room as students entered.

“I got my GED, I can do anything!” said graduate Kevin Armstrong.

Students received caps and gowns, as well as their own tassels, a gift from the center. 

Before the ceremony began, graduates surrounded special guest Rojo the Llama with their families for pictures. 

County Commissioners Loretta Smith and Judy Shiprack attended, along with State GED Administrator Teresa Alonso Leon and John Ryan’s widow, Virginia Ryan.

“They keep inviting me, so I just keep coming back,” said Ryan with a smile. “I love it. I feel so exhilarated and special when I come to these ceremonies.”

Marissa Madrigal, whose term as interim county chair ended earlier that morning, shared in the proud moment with students.

“I graduated from the county chair today,” Madrigal said, “so this feels right.”

She acknowledged their achievements and urged the graduates to use their hard work as a reminder of the strength, power and voice they each possess.

“The next time you’re faced with something difficult,” Madrigal said, “remember this feeling of excitement and be proud.” 

Speaker Myldred Silvia, a Londer Learning Center alumnus, shared her success after graduating last year. Silvia is now a college student and preparing for a degree in dentistry. Her accomplishments inspired her son to earn his GED and now they’re both currently enrolled at Portland Community College.

“Education allows us to understand we have choices,” said Silvia, 47. “The more education we have the better choices we make.” 

Staff and students received recognition for their accomplishment, and speakers paid a special tribute to parole officer John Harlan, who died in a motorcycle accident on March 22.

“He was well loved,” said Londer Learning Center manager Carole Scholl, “and a human being that goes above and beyond for his clients.”.

“He was always thinking of ways to find support for his clients,” Scholl said.

Student speakers at the ceremony included Velvet Aguilar, 40, a student at PCC with 4.0 grade point average who once struggled with math and English, and Brandy Hofmann, 32, who earned her GED because the Londer Learning Center staff never gave up on her.

Timothy Pool, 37, advised his fellow graduates to hang out with people who have what you want; strive for progress, not perfection and know all things are possible for those who believe.

“Today it feels really good to start something and finish it,” said Pool.