Alumni Profiles

To our mind, a thriving Clemente student is not just the one going on to college. In the Clemente world, success means that whatever our students do next is tied to a life newly examined. Clemente graduates are poised to participate in democracy and in the lives of their communities. Having experienced their own tremendous potential, they will continue to put it to great use, no matter what life has in store. Once that place of thought has opened up within them, their lives are forever changed.

MARINA VAN ZUYLEN
Professor of French and Comparative Literature
Bard College, Academic Director,
Bard Clemente Course in the Humanities

If you had asked me prior to Clemente if I would own a business and become a member of the middle class, I would have laughed. But today I am an MBA student at Washington State University and on my way to getting my Certified Public Accounting Credentials.

CANDY CARTER
Clemente Graduate


Kafi Dixon is the founder of Seeds of Change, an organization that allows individuals to come together to purchase food items collectively from local farms and wholesale distributors.

I never went to high school. I never went to high school. I was homeless; it was just too hard. When I was 16, I got pregnant and had my first daughter, and then when I was 19 I had mysecond daughter. Over the years I was ashamed because I didn’t have an education. I started several small businesses; a bedding shop, a farm stand, anything to get away without having to explain that I don’t have a GED. It was like this dirty little secret I was carrying around.

I really wanted to start a farm, but I needed a business plan to do that. I was paralyzed. I was unable to communicate my ideas for this business in writing. I’m more than capable of running a business, but I lacked confidence to write the plan, and I didn’t have networks of people I could turn to that had skills in writing, research or business planning.

That’s when I found Clemente. Clemente took my natural abilities and shined them so that others could see them. The professors and my fellow students also pushed me to recognize my own strengths. 


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Waldo Aguavivas is a student at Suffolk University.

In my family, other things were always more important than education. My mother had to work three jobs to put food on the table. She couldn’t come home and help me with homework or urge me to go to school. School was uncomfortable for me because I’m a gay Dominican male. I dropped out in 2005 when I was in 11th grade.

When I signed up for Clemente in 2011 I didn’t know what a syllabus was. My writing needed improvement. I struggled but I worked hard to improve, meeting regularly with the writing coach. Clemente made me realize that no question is a dumb question. I saw that others have the same questions I do, so I’m no longer scared to ask. The professors encouraged me to express myself. Through Clemente I learned self - discipline, and gained an understanding of what college is all about.


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Amy Howard is a member of the Port Townsend, WA City Council and is the executive director of the Boiler Room, a community art and social service center.

I thought I was going to be working in dead end jobs forever. Clemente showed me that I could think and that my ideas were valid. Now I encourage my volunteers and staff to take the Clemente Course because I know that it can change lives.

I grew up in a town of 500 people then moved to Seattle after high school. I became addicted to methamphetamines. When I decided to leave that scene, two street kids put me on the ferry and sent me to Port Townsend. I was homeless at the time, but I volunteered at the Boiler Room and that gave me a purpose.

I learned about Clemente when the program director gave a presentation at the Boiler Room. At first I was afraid to even try learning because I was scared that my addiction had ruined my brain, but the academic director made it seem so interesting that I decided to try.

Clemente was amazing. The subject matter was fascinating and the teachers were engaging. Most importantly, I was surrounded by other people who also faced challenging circumstances but were equally engaged, and wanted to learn. It was the catalyst that I needed to change my life.


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2006 Graduate, Odyssey Project in Madison, WI

Around the state of Wisconsin, people travel to hear Corey Saffold speak.


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2016 Clemente Course Graduate from Kingston, NY

One thing that’s clear about Jewel Walcott is that she never stops learning. A graduate of the course in Kingston, NY—where she was selected commencement speaker the following year—Jewel carries a notebook with her wherever she goes. “I use it to write down random thoughts,” she says, “or I watch a movie and find myself unintentionally writing an essay about it. My Clemente writing instructor gave me permission to express myself on paper.”


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Congratulations to Halifax Humanities

Kings College student and filmmaker, Rachel O’Brien, interviewed and filmed Halifax Humanities students and teachers for this short film.


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MEET IRENE SALAS
2014 Graduate of Free Minds in Austin, Texas

 

On the last night of class this year in Free Minds, Irene Salas addressed the students she had mentored since August. “Thank you for your courage,” she told them. “Thank you for your persistence. And most of all, thank you for bringing your voices – your individual voices – to the room. I love to hear all of y’all because it makes the world a lot bigger.”

It was the desire to make her own world bigger that led Irene to Free Minds in the summer of 2013. She was just turning 40 with a husband, two children, and an extended family she helped care for. She had hungered to go to college, but had never even taken a class. In fact, no one in her family ever had. Then her husband Benny received an email about Free Minds at his job in maintenance at the City of Austin. He shared it with Irene.

“I told him it was too good to be true. Who’s going to pay your tuition, pay your books, watch your kids, and feed you? C’mon.”


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Port Townsend, WA: For Port Townsend City Council, two young new council members will replace two who are retiring. For Position 6, Amy Smith, beat her opponent, by a 71.5 percent to 28 percent margin. Amy is a graduate of the Jefferson Clemente Course: "I took this course as a wayward youth; it changed my life."


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