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RCC commencement speaker: Lisa Hansen's classroom success emblematic of putting addiction in the past

Sitting in Writing 121 her second year at Rogue Community College, Lisa Hansen's past unexpectedly collided with her present.

"We had a writing prompt about addiction," Hansen, now 28, remembers. "I was so scared to be honest."

Before starting at RCC's Medford campus, Hansen was a recovering addict struggling to support her son. Her first year at RCC had given her confidence, but she still found it difficult to accept her past.

"I was afraid of that part of my life," said Hansen, who lives in Ashland. "I thought it was something to hide and be ashamed of."

When she confessed this to her professor, Vince Tweddell, his response was a turning point for Hansen.

"He told me that so many people at this school have been through that, too, and inspired me to not be ashamed of myself," Hansen said.

Tweddell inspired Hansen to be proud of how far she had come since her first day at RCC, when she was terrified to walk through the door.

As a single mom, Hansen said she found the courage to return to school through knowing she was the only one to provide a future for her 4-year-old son, Brayden. Still, on her first day, she was worried about whether at 25 she was too old, or if she would struggle in class as she had in high school.

"I still remember my first A," Hansen said. "I said to my professor, 'You gave this A to me,' and she said, 'No, you earned this A.' I gave her a huge hug, then walking out wondered if it was weird of me to just embrace her in class. But I was so happy and proud I didn't care."

Hansen went on to earn straight A's, and is graduating with a 4.0. GPA and an associate of art degree.

"Doing well in school showed me that my addiction doesn't define me, my brain does," Hansen said.

While Hansen is proud of the life she has created for herself, she said she never would have found the drive if it weren't for her son.

"I want to be someone Brayden can look up to and make a role model," Hansen said. "He's the best child I have ever met, and he's been my inspiration from the beginning."

After achieving sobriety and success in school, Hansen is tackling yet another personal fear this Saturday as one of the two student speakers at RCC graduation: public speaking.

"I'm so excited," Hansen said. "Giving the speech is proving to be one of the biggest personal growths I've ever experienced."

In her five-minute speech at the Marjorie Holzgang Concert Bowl on the RCC Redwood Campus in Grants Pass, Hansen will encourage her classmates to push through difficulties and embrace life.

"I'm going to tell them to say 'Yes' to life and to new opportunities that come their way," said Hansen, who was nominated to give the speech by her advisor. "It wasn't until I put myself out there that I realized all I was capable of accomplishing."

Hansen plans to transfer to Southern Oregon University to study graphic design and work for her family's business, Gold & Gems, improving the company's online presence.

"While at RCC, I realized I could go beyond just surviving and really thrive," Hansen said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Kelsey Thomas at 541-776-4368 or kthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at twitter.com/kelseyethomas.

RCC commencement speaker: Lisa Hansen's classroom success emblematic of putting addiction in the past