Wednesday, June 19, 2013
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Ashley Motley lost both of her parents before entering college, and found a much-needed circle of advisers and friends through programs like Upward Bound at WOU.
June 20, 2012
MONMOUTH- The cap and gown looked fine, but new Western Oregon University alumnus Ashley Motley said the stole still puzzled her.
"It looks ... kind of funky," Motley said.
This was prior to Saturday's commencement, where Motley, who double majored in psychology and sociology, walked with nearly 800 of her peers.
The 23-year-old was stressing over tests and final presentations, and trying to figure out how to squeeze the 10 or so family members and friends she invited to the ceremony into her two-bedroom apartment.
Saturday would be a "whirlwind of emotion," she said. She was proud to have made it this far coming from a poor and tumultuous household and struggling with college early on.
The day also hurt because it would be celebrated without her mom and dad, both of whom died when she was a teenager.
"I think I invited a lot of people to try and forget that (my parents) aren't there," she said. "I'm hoping they would be proud."
Motley grew up in Northeast Salem, splitting her time between her separated parents.
Motley's father was 68 years old when she was born and passed away when she was 13. Despite suffering from a number of ailments, "Papa was everything to me, my playmate, homework helper," she said in a written description of her upbringing.
Her mother was loving, but also coped with debilitating mood disorders. Motley said she spent much of her youth caring for her, their apartment and her school work. Her mom was in and out of the hospital frequently because of diabetes.
"We lived on Social Security, mom struggled just to put food on the table," she said.
Motley's teachers at McKay High School in Salem pushed her to join Upward Bound. That opened the door to Western and financial assistance.
It was during a visit to campus when Motley was 17 that her mother died. Motley remembered receiving a dozen phone calls one evening while watching a movie with others and letting them go to voicemail -- she assumed it was a request to babysit.
She later learned that her mother had gone to the hospital that evening. She died the next day.
Motley embraced Upward Bound and WOU initiatives such as the Student Enrichment Program. They gave her a much-needed circle of friends, advisers and a support network.
"I don't see myself as any stronger than anybody else," Motley said. "I'm just here ... some bad stuff has happened to me, but I have had a lot of other positive circumstances happen, too."
"I don't think I would have made it this far without (support at WOU)," she continued. "I would have dropped through the cracks."
Motley said she was a relatively disinterested student during her final years of high school. She was heavily involved with student groups such as the Multicultural Student Union at Western, sometimes at the expense of her grades.
She struggled to keep her GPA at 2.0 during the first three years at WOU, but was above a 3.0 in 2011-12.
Motley will be working for Upward Bound for six weeks this summer as an adviser. After that, she'll try to find a job or apply for graduate school. Ultimately, she wants to work with kids and earn a doctorate (in what?).
"Whatever I do, my goal is going to be to get a Ph.D, regardless of how long it takes," she said. "It's not for money, not for status, just a goal of mine."