First-year optometry student Rebecca Wilbur and freshman Celine Yip are among the countless Pacific students who come for more than an education— they come for hope for a different future, for themselves, their families and their communities.Jenni Luckett | Editor
Celine Yip tried not to listen when people put down her high school.
“It has kind of a bad reputation, an ungrounded reputation,” Yip said of Jefferson High School, on the north side of Portland. “Pretty much that students are crazy and fight all the time, do drugs; there are security checks and low test scores.”
The rumors, she said, aren’t true, and they aren’t fair.
“People don’t fight all the time, and they won’t jump you.”
The reputation was uncomfortable enough that Yip’s family encouraged her to leave Jefferson — but she returned after only a year at a nearby public school, saying Jefferson was the right place for her.
It was a good decision: Yip became the first recipient of a new scholarship for a Jefferson student to attend Pacific University — a scholarship that made a previously unlikely college education possible.
Yip was born in Los Angeles but spent the first couple years of her life in China. Her mother, she said, immigrated to the United States from Cambodia, by way of Vietnam, as a teenager. Her parents decided to raise their family — Celine, an older brother and a younger sister — in China.
When the couple divorced, though, Yip’s mom brought the children back to the U.S.
“My childhood was a lot of different houses, a lot of different schools,” Yip said, recalling the frequent moves in her early years.
Education was in the background, but it was always a tenuous possibility. Yip’s mother had a couple years of college but quit when she got married. Yip’s brother also went for a year or two, until he ran out of money.
“(My mom) wanted me to do well … but she worried, I think,” Yip said. “She had no way to pay for college for me. She let me know that early on.
“When I was younger, everything about education was governed by money,” she said.
For example, she said, “I loved to read, but my mom wouldn’t want me to read too much, because we’d get library fines if the books were late. Extra clubs and things cost money, so I knew not to ask.”
Yip didn’t give up — she just looked for opportunities.
At Jefferson, she said, many of her friends from freshman year had dropped out after she returned from her year away. Asked if she was tempted to do the same, Yip is surprised; the thought doesn’t appear to have crossed her mind.
“I think a lot of my friends were interested in college, but a lot gave up on the idea because they couldn’t pay for it. They just didn’t see it as an option,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine why someone wouldn’t go (to college). If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t be challenged, I wouldn’t constantly have something to do.”
So she got a part-time job, painting henna body art at parties and at Portland’s Saturday Market. She participated in activities at school, such as dance and drama.