A story of perseverance and determination

Bend man overcomes challenges, graduates Saturday

Graduation at last

BEND, Ore. - It's a story of sheer determination. On Saturday, one chapter ends and another begins.

Michael Backstrom has Asperger's syndrome, so he struggles with communication and social interaction.

His mom, Lawana Wynne says his favorite word is, 'Uh huh.'

But on Saturday, Michael will put on a graduation cap and gown.

And he'll walk across the stage to receive his associate degree from Central Oregon Community College, an accomplishment 10 years in the making.

It's a welcome relief for Michael.

"I just feel like a lot of weight has been taken off my shoulders, more of a relief. It's like it's done, it's over with, I can move on, that hurdle's taken care of," he said. 

Michael excels at numbers, in particular, geographical information systems. He hopes to eventually work in something he's been passionate about for a long time: mapping. 

"When I was younger I really liked looking at maps and creating maps," he said. "I didn't know there was a whole program doing nothing but the mapping." 

Wynne said one of the biggest reasons it's taken Michael so long to get to this point is communication. 

"His disability is not knowing how to ask for help," she said. "So how does he walk up to a teacher after school and ask for help when he's not even able to tell me about it?"

And to that, officials at the college said, once students reach post-secondary education, it's mostly up to them

"The biggest thing we really emphasize for students is how to have those collaborative conversations with faculty," said Jamie Rougeux, the disability services coordinator at COCC.

"I won't know they're struggling unless they reach out to me and say, 'I'm having a really hard time in math, what should I do?'" Rougeux said. 

Despite the ups and down of the past 10 years, Michael said giving up was never an option. And that's his message to others.

"I'd say, just don't give up and use your resources provided," he said.  

"That's one of the few things that just kept me going toward my degree, just never give up."

On Saturday, Michael will graduate with his associate degree and certificates in geographical information systems, mapping cartography and forest measurements. 

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