Western Oregon University awards Gervais resident highest honor

Portland Tribune
By Lindsay Keefer
June 18, 2014

Medina with daugter
Anthony Medina’s daughter, Adaleah, gives him a kiss to congratulate him on his recent graduation from Western Oregon University.

Graduating at the top of his college class and setting his sights on attending Stanford, Anthony Medina is poised to make a difference in higher education policy. But the path to success hasn’t been easy.

The 2010 Gervais High School graduate comes from a broken family. His mother had him at only 16 and his father was incarcerated then deported back to Mexico, so he was raised by his grandparents.

“The highest level of education in my house is sixth grade,” he said.

In high school, Medina was involved in basketball and football, the Kids Making Miracles Foundation (an arm of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital) and the student body.

Medina was determined to reach for a higher education, and he did so after receiving a number of scholarships from Western Oregon University and from local

Medina with wife and child
Anthony Medina stands with his fiance, Yadira, and 2-year-old daughter, Adaleah, at Western Oregon University’s commencement ceremony Saturday.

organizations, like Gervais Pride, LEaRN (Latino Educational and Recreational Network) and Woodburn Kiwanis.

In college, he put aside his interest in sports to focus on school, but he still managed
to get involved in student government, being voted activities director his freshman year, and in other student groups.

He joined the Oregon Student Association as a sophomore, which placed second in the nation for registering the most student voters (50,000).

“We broke the Oregon record,” he said. “That just fueled my passion for student advocacy.”

He continued to stay involved while maintaining a straight-A grade point average, becoming a student body senator and tutoring at high schools in Dallas and Salem.

His involvement with the federal TRIO program, which is designed to help students with disadvantaged backgrounds, scored him the arguable highlight of his college career last spring: He was accepted into a semester-long scholarship program to Washington D.C., during which he was enrolled in Marquette University’s Les Aspin Center for Government and worked in the office of Rep. Peter DeFazio.

“I think I’m the only Oregonian to ever receive it,” he said about the scholarship. “I lived three blocks behind the U.S. Capitol building, my neighbor was a senator, politicians were constantly guest speakers in my class. At Western, I could learn in every political science class,
but to get to go to Washington D.C. and to see Congress in action and to learn from people in the field, you can’t compare it. It was a great experience.”

But, knowing he would lose his scholarships to WOU if he dropped out for a semester, he kept full-time enrollment to both universities, all
the while working three days a week in the congressman’s office. And he still managed to earn all A’s and A-minuses.

Although he enjoyed his time there, Medina said he would rather stay in Oregon.

“Washington D.C. was great, but it was fast-paced,” he said. “Oregon is where my heart is. I’m so passionate about it here.”

Life also threw him a curveball his sophomore year, when his fiancé, Yadira, announced she was pregnant.

“My dad was incarcerated then deported, so I was scared when I found out I was going to be a dad,” he said. “That put a lot of weight on me. That semester I had my lowest GPA ever.”

But his daughter, Adaleah, who was born in April 2012, has given Medina more of a reason to work hard.

And that hard work has paid off: He graduated magna cum laude on Saturday and was given the Delmer Dewey Award, a distinction awarded based on academics and involvement. As a result, he spoke during the commencement ceremony.

“My speech is about never limiting yourself and to be different,” he said. “Hit the books because it’s your ticket to education.”

Medina’s next step is to start the nine-month program at Stanford, from which he received the Graduate School of Education’s highest possible scholarship available to grad students ($10,000). At 22, he’s also the youngest student in the country’s only graduate program that focuses on higher education policy. Ironically, he will accumulate thousands of dollars in debt while working toward advocacy of making higher education more affordable.

“So it’s a very important issue to me personally as well,” he said. “Education is the biggest alleviation from poverty. That’s how I see it. I’m very passionate about my community and that’s why I’m passionate about education.”

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