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Alumnus inspires Centennial Eagles

- U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer returns to his alma mater for visit


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - A 1966 Centennial High School graduate, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer speaks to students about the importance of following opportunities. 'It's never too late,' he said.

Eagle spirit reigned at Centennial High School on Tuesday, April 22, as U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, returned to his alma mater for a morning assembly.

Originally scheduled to serve as the school’s homecoming grand marshal last September, Blumenauer had to cancel amid the U.S. budget crisis.

Along with presenting a graduating senior with a $2,000 leadership scholarship the school created in his name, Blumenauer won a rock-paper-scissors showdown and fielded student questions.

“You never really know what could happen in the future,” Blumenauer said to students. “The key is to take advantage of the opportunities presented to you. It’s never too late. I’m deeply appreciative of the experiences I had at Centennial.”

Blumenauer said he was struck by the school’s diversity compared to when he attended Centennial in the 1960s. He told students they were lucky to have a student body that reflects the world around them.

During his time at Centennial, Blumenauer played Merlin the Magician in “Camelot,” participated in Gresham Rotary meetings as a junior representative and became what he called “the world’s worst wrestler.”

As a senior, Blumenauer was named outstanding student in speech and held several leadership positions for student groups, attending Boys State and earning recognition as a National Merit Finalist.

To this day, Blumenauer keeps up with classmates such as former Oregon State Sen. Rick Metsger and his former high school debate partner, Rick Gustafson.

A graduate of Lewis & Clark College and Law School, Blumenauer launched his career in Portland-area politics. First elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1972, he was elected to the Portland City Council in 1986 and the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Student body president Jacque Nelson, right, introduced Blumenauer, left. She was proud to award her friend and fellow leader, Kelsey Scully, with the $2,000 Congressman Earl Blumenauer Scholarship.

Honoring a quiet leader

Many recognize Blumenauer for his signature bow tie and mass transit and bicycling advocacy. Two years ago, Kelsey Scully, student body secretary, saw Blumenauer in action in Washington, D.C., during a summer program. She remembers him offering her one of his bicycle pins.

Little did Scully know she would receive the scholarship in Blumenauer’s name as a 2014 graduating senior, garnering a round of applause and cheers from her classmates.

“What a leader is cannot be defined by their number of years or the attention they’ve gained, but by the lives they’ve touched and the change they’ve made,” said student body president Jacque Nelson, as she spoke of Scully. “The winner of this scholarship is somebody I’ve had the honor to work beside the past six years. She challenges me to work hard and fight for what I know is right even when it isn’t the easiest thing to do.”

For Scully, 18, the scholarship was a reminder that her quiet leadership had been appreciated throughout Centennial. She expressed deep gratitude for the award.

“I’m one of those behind-the-scenes leaders who worries if people notice,” she said with a smile. “This was great reassurance and motivation.”

Scully has plans to study biology at Oregon State University this fall and eventually dreams of attending medical school at Oregon Health & Science University.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Kelsey Scully, 18, plans to study biology at Oregon State University this fall and eventually enroll in medical school at Oregon Health & Science University.

“Access to college education is not as affordable as when I was in school,” Blumenauer said. “We’re working to change that, but until we do, I’m deeply appreciative of what the foundation, faculty and staff are doing here. Each little step can make a difference.”

Blumenauer and his wife matched the school’s original $1,000 designated for the scholarship, wanting to support future Centennial Eagles.

When asked how he thought the nation’s educational system was doing, Blumenauer said some students were a testament to its successes, but that frankly, the country is in choppier water than it should be.

“We’re making it harder for young people to go on to higher education,” he said “I’m appalled at the debt levels on college campuses. We need to make it more affordable and I want the federal government to give credit against student loans for those of you who go on into education or who work in communities that need special assistance. We ought to make it easier for you to do that.”

After demonstrating his rock-paper-scissors prowess, Blumenauer answered students’ pressing questions — with topics ranging from school safety to immigration.

Q and A session

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Known for his signature bow ties, Blumenauer is a mass transit and bicycling advocate.

Right now, Blumenauer told students he has two focuses: trying to rebuild and renew America by strengthening infrastructure and making communities safer, stronger and more economically efficient, and heeding the impacts of climate change.

“One of the things I would change is that I would have government follow the same rules that we ask everyone else to follow,” he said. “For instance, some of the worst pollution in America is left over from the military’s nuclear waste and explosive chemicals. I would have the government play the rules of the game and lead by example.”

Blumenauer told students he believes the country should treat gun violence like a public health issue to keep schools safer, saying he felt strongly the U.S. should have reasonable gun safety provisions in place.

“For those of you who hunt or target shoot, that’s fine,” he said. “I’m not sure we need AK-47s to get Bambi.”

One student asked why Blumenauer thought a social conservative should vote for him.

Blumenauer urged students to look beyond labels to see what candidates’ actual actions are.

“Look into your leaders’ voting records and what they stand for,” he said. “Most things Americans care about are pretty fundamental.”

Lastly, Blumenauer fielded a question about immigration, asking a question back. “Is there anyone who is not a native American in this room?” he said.

Hands shot up.

“There are hardworking, law-abiding people who are contributing greatly to our country. There should be a path to citizenship for everybody who is here, playing the rules and wanting to make America great.”

During the assembly, Principal Kevin Ricker told students they never know what the future could hold for the everyday people they walk beside in the halls.




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