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 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.
Afterwards I started taking college classes to learn how to run a business. Today I oversee the Boiler Room, supervising a staff of six and managing a $200,000 budget. This year I ran for City Council and won. At age 33, I am the youngest member of the Council.
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.
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.
I went on to get my associates degree from Roxbury Community College, where I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. This semester I started at Suffolk University. I plan to get my BA then go on to law school. I am the first in my family to go to college, and I want to keep learning. Clemente opened up my mind and now I’m hungry for more knowledge.
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.
Before Clemente, a simple question like “tell us about yourself” was enough to discourage me from completing an application or a business plan. I had gotten off of welfare; I had raised children who went to college. But I was ashamed of my story because I didn’t have an education.. Through Clemente I gained the skills I needed to write that business plan, and I was able to start The Women of Color Cooperative Farm in Boston. More importantly, I gained the confidence to interact with people across class and cultural lines.
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.