2000 Valedictorian: Vicki Bates

Vicki Bates’ story is one of self-initiative, perseverance, transformation and finding one’s niche in life.

Vicki’s dad’s career in the United States Marine Corps kept the family on the move.  Vicki was born in Quantico, Virginia, near the Marine Corps base there.  She remembers moving often and attending thirteen different schools.  After her dad’s retirement in 1970, the Bates family settled near Portland, Oregon.

Due to the many moves while growing up, Vicki says she had a tough time making friends and did poorly in school.  At the time her goals and aspirations were limited.  She says, “My parents gave me little encouragement to do better in school and, as typical back then, it was assumed that I would marry, have children and not work.  College and a career were not on their radar or mine.”

Then, as a senior in high school, she began working in the school district’s print shop.  She worked her way up from binding to typesetting.  At the age of twenty-two she says she, “…boldly sent my resume to the company that made the typesetting computer and was hired in short order.”

The company flew her to Boston for seven weeks to train on a wide range of computerized phototypesetting equipment.  She then traveled the United States for eight years instructing customers, including a few days with the journalism department at Ohlone College!  In 1980 she was promoted to district manager of training and then regional manager in 1981.  This required a move to the company office in Hayward and she took up residence in Fremont.

Then in 1983, ready to hang up her suitcase, Vicki started a typesetting business in Fremont with a friend.  The business did well and was sold in 1989.

While she was in management she realized she needed to further her education and began taking classes at Ohlone College as a part-time student.  She was in her late twenties.  Her Ohlone experience was one of important self-discovery:

To my great surprise, I loved learning and loved going to school.  With each letter ‘A’ grade that I earned my confidence was bolstered and my self-doubts about not being smart were assuaged.  The classes were interesting and the teachers excellent!  They are really the reason I did so well and why I continued to return year after year, for twenty years.

For 20 years Vicki attended Ohlone as a part-time student, while working full time.  At first she was attending to gain knowledge for personal enrichment and to advance in her career.  She aimed to “…build confidence in myself and know I could stand shoulder to shoulder with my family and peers with college degrees.”

Vicki loved going to Ohlone College for its beautiful location, abundance of subjects offered and broad range of days and times to choose from.  She says what kept her returning year after year was the caliber of the teaching staff.  Vicki states, “Every instructor was knowledgeable, professional and had a passion for what they were teaching.”

Vicki especially remembers Mr. Jim Snell, Administration of Justice faculty member.  “He was an exceptional teacher and a great mentor to all of his students.”  Largely because of Mr. Snell, Vicki decided to make a career shift from her work in typesetting to Administration of Justice.  She began working full-time for the Santa Clara County Department of Correction as a Correctional Officer in 1993 while continuing to take classes part-time.

As her credits mounted up, she was zeroing in on graduation.  As she recalls, “The final class I needed was Algebra and I no longer felt so smart”.  She dropped the class twice due to lack of confidence “…and then waited a number of years before deciding, one more time.”  She credits an excellent math instructor and the staff in the math lab for helping her over that obstacle.

In 2000, at the age of 48, and after 20 years of perseverance as a part-time student Vicki graduated with her associate degree.  She was not planning to attend the graduation ceremony until she received a telephone call from Vice President of Instruction and Student Services, Dr. Paulette Perfumo, asking her why she was not attending graduation.  Vicki recalls the conversation vividly:

I told her I thought that graduation was not mandatory.  When she told me I had to be there because I was the Class of 2000’s Valedictorian I almost fainted.  I responded with reasons why I should not be the valedictorian, too old, it took me too long, always part-time and not working two jobs and taking care of children like so many other students.  What she said next I’ll never forget, that I have a story and my story might inspire someone else to finish their degree.  Definitely one of the high points of my life!

During her career with Santa Clara County, Vicki worked in the Women’s Facility, Men’s Facility and Transportation Unit at Elmwood in Milpitas before transferring to the Main Jail in downtown San Jose for her final two years.  She retired at the end of 2006 and immediately began providing care for her now 94-year-old mother with dementia / Alzheimer’s disease.

After moving to Oregon for three years, Vicki moved back to the Bay Area with her mother and now lives in Santa Clara.  She spends mornings with her mother and then gets out to walk, hike, bike, swim or go to the gym.