Commencement2005
News Releases

A Lifelong Commitment
to Global Connections

2005 Commencement Speaker Garry Presthus at the podiumWhen Garry Presthus stepped to the microphone to give the key note address at Clark College’s commencement, it was a special moment for him and for the class of 2005.

For the college community, it was the opportunity to hear from an individual who has made meaningful contributions around the world. For Garry Presthus, it was a chance to return as a proud Clark College alumnus.

A graduate of Battle Ground High School, Presthus attended Clark College before transferring to the University of Washington where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.

From 1966 until 1968, Presthus served as a member of the Peace Corps Volunteers in West Africa. In the 60s, Presthus said, “It was dawning on everyone that with improved communications, especially air travel, we were all in one big global village. Remember, this was before the word Internet even existed. One aspect of this was the fact that news, both good and bad, traveled around the world with amazing speed. We have seen too many examples of this recently. It also meant that diseases with any incubation period could travel from almost anywhere, to any country in the world.”

Following the Peace Corps, he spent 32 years with the World Health Organization (WHO) in a number of different positions on projects including the hands-on implementation of public health programs, smallpox eradication, and the expanded immunization program. During commencement, Presthus noted that “I confirmed the last known case of smallpox in sub-Saharan Africa in Botswana in the 1970s. I have a picture of the last case.”

Working in Geneva, the Philippines, India, New Guinea and Africa, Presthus served as a field development officer, manager and senior administrative officer. He was the Director-General’s Appointee to the Headquarters Board of Appeal. He also provided administrative support during the Ebola outbreak in Kikwit (Democratic Republic of the Congo) during which, as he observed, “over 100 people died a horrible death.”

Though retired from the World Health Organization, he continues to serve that organization through projects such as polio eradication in Africa and tsunami relief in Indonesia. His work with the World Health Organization has offered him the opportunity to work in a variety of different and often dangerous conditions. He labored side-by-side with people ranging from the highest levels of government to villagers. His work and commitment have been profiled in The Columbian and The Oregonian newspapers.

Presthus told the commencement audience at the Clark County Amphitheater, “As a first- generation American whose father arrived penniless in 1926 from Norway, I know how proud my father would be if he saw me here today. Yet again America has produced another example of what can happen in the USA. This is a great country.” He added, “Clark College played a big part of that American dream for my family.”

Garry Presthus and his family at Clark's 2005 Commencement ceremony
Garry Presthus and his family arrive for the 2005 Clark College Commencement ceremony. Their global connections are reflected in their lives. Daughter Stephanie A.K. Presthus (left) was born in Manila in the Philippines. Son Gregory T. Presthus (second from left) was born in Seattle, Washington. Wife Marie Jeanne Presthus (nee Garcia, right) was born in
Algeria.

Presthus noted that his mother attended Clark College to upgrade her nursing skills so she could return to the workforce. His sister Susan attended Clark and became a registered nurse. The family connection to Clark College was extended to another generation when Presthus’s son Gregory attended the college to study Spanish.

In his address, Presthus pointed to the Clark College mission statement which “starts with this sentence ‘Clark College provides opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to pursue their educational goals…’ I think the vollege has done this time and time again. We
count on Clark College to continue to provide opportunities for the people of this community.”

A 2005 Clark College graduate celebrates receiving her diploma

He also offered this challenge to the class of 2005. “The future is an unknown commodity. I think rather than worry about what the future may bring, make sure you are prepared for whatever the future will deliver. I would put it this way ‘take advantage of all opportunities available today so you are prepared for the future.’ Your time at Clark College is but one step in preparing you for the future."