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Beating the odds and giving back


LOHS grad overcomes difficulties growing up to become standout LO resident

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Passing through Salamanca, Spain, during a European backpacking trip in 2010, Melissa Wilk paused to give a statue a few reading tips.Melissa Wilk went through a lot in high school, but it never slowed her down — in fact, she’s only picked up momentum in the last few years.

Wilk, now 22, was the queen of the May Fete dance her senior year, a performer in the Windjammers show choir, a stage presence in most every theater production and winner of Lake Oswego High School’s Jess Jones Award for Community Service.

“School was my second home; that’s something that could definitely be said,” Wilk said. “I got a lot of support from the school system.”

She prefers to describe her struggles simply: She grew up in a dysfunctional household and moved out in the middle of her senior year when she was 17. Wilk found a home with a friend’s family and enrolled at Portland Community College.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - After the Portland State University graduation ceremony in June 2013, Melissa Wilk, right, poses with her sister, Jessica Pollard.

Mary Sullivan said when Wilk, a friend of her daughter’s, moved in, “she was a joy to have around” and “endeared herself to our family.”

“She is the happiest, friendliest go-getting-est kid I’ve ever known. ... I think she’ll be very successful because she’s got a great personality and is an incredibly hard worker, and that’s great combination,” Sullivan said.

After Wilk finished her two years of required classes at PCC, she headed to Portland State University. Graduating debt free and with honors, Wilk served as PSU’s commencement speaker in June 2013. She supported her studies on her own, earning a Student Success Scholarship and holding a plethora of jobs — hostess, nanny, tutor, baby sitter, caregiver — sometimes three or more at once. She also made time to take up the guitar, which she started strumming eight years ago.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Melissa Wilk was the queen of May Fete in her senior year at Lake Oswego High, and Gavin Young escorted her to the dance.

“I can’t say no one helped me because people were so generous and hospitable, but, as far as finances, I did it myself, and it was not easy, but everyone’s got their own story, that’s for sure,” Wilk said.

Wilk’s next academic step is attending the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education. LOHS theater arts teacher Bob McGranahan said Wilk, who he fondly calls Missy, was an amazing student to have.

“Missy has the ability to accept all people and most situations with love and grace and that sees her through,” McGranahan said. “She made (LOHS) a better place just by being in the building. She also was very involved in changing the culture of this school to one that was a little more tolerant of ‘difference.’

“Missy is not one of those people that draws attention to herself, rather she helps those around her shine. She will be a fine teacher and the parents and students that she works with will be very fortunate indeed.”

Before she immerses herself in graduate studies, the self-professed vagabond — who backpacked through Europe at age 19 — plans to take another trip. Recently back from a month-long trip where she taught in Costa Rica, the young woman who speaks Spanish fluently is going to be a teacher again, heading to Mexico through the International Volunteer HQ.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Melissa Wilk has played the guitar for eight years.

About 30,084 volunteers have been placed abroad since the organization coalesced in 2007. Its participants take a variety of jobs in fields such as teaching, construction and conservation, and participants can choose from a slew of countries including Mexico, Vietnam and Morocco.

“A lot of people in Lake Oswego helped me, so I want to go and give back to someone else,” said Wilk, who lives in the Lake Grove neighborhood. “It’s a little bit of a healing process to be honest. When you become someone who receives a lot of support, it’s wonderful to be in a position to give back because for a long time I was down on my luck. There were so many people who believed in me.”

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @jilliandaley.