Commencement speaker: Betty Komp

WOU alumna, Representative Betty Komp, did not start college right after high school. At age 18 she got married and started a family. Seventeen years later she was raising four kids on her own and wanted a life change. It was time to go to college. Komp knew she wanted to be an educator and debated between attending WOU or Portland State University. “I’d always been fond of Western. It’s more my style than the big city.” She was drawn to WOU’s renowned education program, but ultimately it was a fiscal decision that had her select the Wolves. Komp compared the parking costs between PSU and WOU and liked that she could park for free on Monmouth’s city streets.

The intimate campus setting suited her style with all her classes in a three block radius. She felt right at home, but the transition was hard. She transferred from Chemeketa during winter term, a time of the year when events aiding the college transition were sparse. She also didn’t know the professors well enough to know whom to choose for an advisor.

Komp got to know her professors through the classes she took and one stood out among the rest: Dr. Gerald Girod. She recalled an example of how Girod went above and beyond to help his students. Education majors were required to pass the CBEST test before they could become a teacher. As a tutor in the Writing Center, Komp worked with a student who wanted to teach elementary students, but he had already failed the CBEST three times due to issues with the writing portion. “I knew he’d make a great teacher, but he just couldn’t put his words on paper to pass this test,” she said.

She talked to Girod and suggested the student may have accessibility issues. Girod got a modification for the student to have a qualified person help type his words as he took the test. He passed the test on his fourth try. “That experience told me how incredible the teachers at WOU could be. That young man would not be a teacher today without Dr. Girod.”

During a summer class, Komp experienced the quality teaching of another professor. He asked her to stay after class one afternoon. “He sat me down and said, ‘Betty, if you say one more negative thing about yourself or put yourself down you will be kicked out of this class.’”

It was an aha moment for her because she hadn’t realized she’d been jokingly saying negative things about herself. “He saw them as unhelpful to my own growth. His words gave me the opportunity to reflect and reassess my behaviors.”

After graduation she worked as a substitute and eventually hired as a resource teacher at Woodburn High School. Komp taught for nearly four years then earned a master’s to become an education administrator. Seeing increasing federal mandates under No Child Left Behind, she got frustrated as a principal of a school with a highly diverse, low economic student population.

“My dad always told me don’t whine about it, do something about it. So I decided I’d run for office.” Komp will retire this year, and has been an Oregon State Representative for 12 years. “I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve been able to work with a team of people to really look at how we need to help all students graduate,” she said. Komp spent her legislative career working for positive change in Oregon education.

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