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Free radical

Celeste Goulding always knew she was destined for a life of activism, and now she's shaking things up as a student leader at Pacific University
by: Chase Allgood, Born in Alaska and reared in Deadwood, Ore., Celeste Goulding spent a year traveling in Brazil before signing on to attend Pacific University. Now she’s a student co-director, with Austyn McPherson, of the Center for Gender Equity.

Whether a notorious gold mining camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota has anything in common with a tiny rural community nestled in Oregon's Coast Range is anybody's guess.

Both towns are named Deadwood, and one is the hometown of Pacific Univer-sity sophomore Celeste Goulding.

But while Deadwood, S.D., became the subject of an acclaimed HBO television series between 2005 and 2007, Deadwood, Ore. - popula-tion 476 - has enjoyed no such notoriety.

Goulding, 19, who was reared there, seems to know the reason.

'My Deadwood is largely a welfare-funded community,' said Goulding, a saucy woman with piercing brown eyes and a razor-sharp mind that allows her to manage a daily calendar crammed full of activities.

'There's a lot of meth and a lot of despair,' she said. 'But it's also a place that's very close-knit and very understanding. It's home to me.'

Goulding and her parents moved from Soldotna, Alaska, where she was born, to the sleepy Oregon burg when she was just a toddler. John Goulding, a commercial fisherman, and Suzy Tignor, a stay-at-home mom, had a vision for the life they wanted for their only child.

'They wanted me to grow up in the woods on a large piece of property, next to a creek,' Goulding said.

Her father sold two fishing boats, their house and an airplane to buy a home in Deadwood. The family moved south in a U-Haul trailer in 1990 - and stayed for 11 years.

'I've met five people who actually know where Deadwood is,' said Goulding.

The city rests on the edge of Deadwood Creek, a tributary of the Siuslaw River, on Route 36 in Lane County. The next fairly large town to the west is Florence, on the southern Oregon Coast.

A trickle of water called Misery Creek ran through Goulding's back yard. She rode horses and played with the llamas, ducks, peacocks, chickens and rabbits that ran free on the property. She helped her mom tend the family's 5-acre garden.

Everybody in Deadwood - 'a little cloister of hippies in the middle of a sea of loggers,' Goulding said - knew her. Particulary at Mapleton High School, 45 minutes away from town, where the entire student body consisted of 87 teenagers.

'My school was incredibly small, so everybody knew me,' Goulding noted. 'Our roles were pretty well established.'

By the time she was a junior, Goulding said, several of her girlfriends had already gotten pregnant and had abor-tions. A male friend was using drugs, sinking quickly into a physical and emotional abyss.

Goulding knew she had to escape the hardscrabble community before it was too late.

'My main thought process was, 'I need to get out of Deadwood,'' she recalled. 'A lot of my friends were already into drinking and drugs - no one told them they could do anything else.'

As it happened, getting out of Deadwood and on with her life hinged on a trip to South America.

Opened her eyes

In 2004, the summer before her junior year, she won a Rotary International exchange student scholarship to study abroad. That fall, Goulding traveled to Belo Horizante in central Brazil, where she lived for a year.

The 12-month immersion experience opened her eyes and changed her life forever.

'There was so much racial diversity there,' she said. 'I encountered Germans, Taiwanese, Irish, Belgians - there were 3 million people in the area.

'Growing up, I'd seen minority groups before, but nothing like that,' Goulding said. 'It was intimidating at first, but it was amazing. It completely changed my world view.'

When she left for Brazil, Goulding was 15. She turned 16 on the trip and returned to Oregon just two months shy of her 17th birthday.

She learned to speak Portuguese and navigate the city using public transportation. 'I'd never even been on a city bus before,' she said. 'I went out to clubs and took taxis home in the wee hours of the morning.

'I lived extremely independently there.'

She attended classes at two private schools and one public school but didn't do a whole lot of serious studying. 'Academics are not in the forefront in Brazil,' Goulding said.

Looking back, she knows she learned other, perhaps more valuable, lessons.

'America is really frowned upon by the rest of the world,' Goulding said. 'There are so many people out there who don't have a voice, and there are so many people here who think they can speak for them without understanding them.'

In 52 short weeks, she encountered 'corruption at every level' and consistently observed the exploits of prostitutes, drug runners and hard drinkers in the Third World country.

'I learned that you have to get to know what people struggle with,' she said. 'And you can't really help a person until you empower them to help themselves.'

Now that she's back in the U.S., apathy has no place in Goulding's language or lifestyle. Recruited to Pacific out of Redmond High School (her parents moved to Central Oregon while she was living abroad), the tiny woman with the big dreams hopes to change the world one program or person at a time.

She's just been named a co-director, along with fellow Boxer Austyn McPherson, of Pacific's Center for Gender Equity. Mentored by professor Martha Rampton, Goulding and McPherson help plan activities like Girls Today, a day-long conference for middle school teens, and other programs that 'promote community and global awareness,' she said.

Goulding also is spearheading the creation of a three-day music and arts festival at Pacific in September.

She lives in an upstairs apartment just off Pacific Avenue, close to the campus and causes that frame her days. Typically busy from dawn until dark, Goulding has little patience for people who seem to stagnate.

'I hate apathy,' she explained. 'You can't solve all the world's problems, but you can help where you are and hope that others will, too.'

After she completes her undergrad degree in political science in 2010, Goulding plans to get a job overseas.

If she could, she'd eschew capitalism altogether and donate her time to Amnesty International 'or a homeless shelter somewhere,' Goulding said. Yet her pragmatic side nags that she needs to earn a living.

'I want to be an international activist,' said Goulding, a self-described radical who recently read 'Letters to a Young Contrarian' by Christopher Hitchens. 'I have bills to pay too, but everybody's got to do something.'