Pierce honors alumni at annual celebration

Everyone has dreams. Many Pierce College alumni have fulfilled their dreams, and they hope to inspire others to follow.

Katie Ardmore

Editor in Chief

Everyone has dreams. Many Pierce College alumni have fulfilled their dreams, and they hope to inspire others to follow.

Each year, alumni from Pierce share their successes and are honored at a banquet celebration. Four more alumni were added to the list of distinguished alumni at the 15th annual Pierce College distinguished alumni celebration April 27.

John E. Lee was the first alumnus honored; he’s the director of the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs.

After drifting through school unsure of what he wanted to do with his life, Lee was drafted into the military in 1968. After coming back from Vietnam, he realized he needed to provide for his family, so he started his college career.

College was difficult for Lee because he had to focus on classes as well as doing his job and raising his family. Pierce inspired him to keep going.

“Pierce taught me I could do this,” he said.

After 15 years, Lee had his undergraduate degree. He took a temporary job with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He moved up until he was the department’s director.

He feels grateful to his wife of 43 years, his family and Pierce College. He said he remembers Pierce’s welcoming atmosphere and good attitudes.

“I’m so proud of Pierce’s efforts to make this a Veteran-friendly school,” Lee said.

The next alumnus honored was Debbi J. Needham, an author and musician. Needham struggled in high school because she found herself too creative and free spirited for traditional schooling. She dropped out, got her GED and proceeded to pursue her dreams.

“I never give up. I take on new things and do my best,” she said.

Needham tried out different things but eventually decided she needed a college degree if she wanted to succeed in life. She started at Pierce College at 19.

Needham found her inspiration in a journalism class. Her instructor, Michael Parks, encouraged her to join the school newspaper. Needham quickly became editor and started earning awards for her articles.

She earned her associate in arts and sciences from Pierce Collegin 1997 and went on to work as a journalist. She had a special needs child she needed to take care of and soon realized she wanted to go in a different direction.

Needham now teaches the top 2 percent of students in South Seattle with a program adjusted for gifted children. She also has written a series of books that have been published. She believes everyone should pursue their dreams.

“Change the world right now; don’t wait until you’re too old,” she said. “Enjoy every last minute of your life.”

Patrick L. Hughes, founder and owner Hughes Group, was honored next. Hughes also started out in the military.

Hughes wanted to become an Army officer, but he needed an associate’s degree first, so he started taking classes at Pierce. He earned his associate in technology in 1987.

In 2000, he opened a store that sold janitorial supplies, and he worked there part-time while finishing his enlistment in the Army. After retiring from the military in 2003, he soon got his first government contract and continued to build his business.

Now his business is a multimillion-dollar company with 150 employees. Last year, Hughes was named the Minority Business Owner of the Year and now he is being honored as a distinguished Pierce College alumnus.

Pierce College has been a big part of Hughes’ life. Not only did he graduate from there, but two of his sons and two of his nieces have gone there. Hughes enjoyed going to Pierce because he felt like the teachers really cared about their students.

“I’m very honored to be a member of a graduating class of Pierce College,” he said.

The last alumnus honored was John M. Simpson, a Pierce College professor. Simpson also served in the military for 21 years.

While in the reserves, he worked part time correcting tests at Pierce. He also took some filler classes at Pierce before finishing his master’s degree. Simpson was then hired on as a history instructor at Pierce.

Simpson soon discovered a passion for photojournalism and started with a $10 photo gig at Fort Lewis. Since that first job, he has been embedded with troops in Afghanistan twice and Iraq seven times. And some of his work featured on KCPQ news was nominated for an Emmy.

Now Simpson works as a teacher at Pierce, and he tries to pass on his definitive attitude to his students.

“If you think you want to do it, do it,” Simpson says. “There are many opportunities out there. Take one.”

Simpson has enjoyed working at Pierce and contributing to what he calls a democratic process.

“I’m proud to be a teacher, but most of all, I’m proud to serve in the community,” he said.



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Pierce honors alumni at annual celebration

by Katie Ardmore time to read: 3 min