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Lucy Clark: The epitome of a Pacific Oaks College graduate invested in social justice


March 8, 2017


Published: March 8, 2017

Lucy Clark grew up in the 1940s and 1950s in West Texas. She was a bright, inquisitive teen who was encouraged by her biology teacher to pursue math and science as a career.

Dreaming large for her was becoming a physician. Excited about achieving her goal of helping others, she asked for a recommendation to medical school and was told by her trusted pre-med chair to forget about getting a medical degree because men needed to be in this profession as they were the breadwinners of the family. She was instead encouraged to enroll in secondary education classes. She tried a few, became bored, and was not interested in teaching.

Fate took an interesting turn. Still wanting to follow a career in science, Clark took a job as a researcher at a hospital in Dallas. On November 23, 1963, she waved to former President John F. Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy as their motorcade drove near her work site. Twenty minutes after she saw the president, he was assassinated.

Later, Clark married a medical student who accepted an internship at LA County-USC Hospital. Once his internship was completed, the couple moved to Minnesota where her husband had a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. Clark needed to help support her family and needed a job very quickly. She saw an ad in the newspaper for a teacher’s aide at a nursery school and decided that her previous babysitting experience might convince the interviewers that she was qualified. She was not, but got the job at this school, one that had been used by Dr. Spock as a child study center. It was an eye-opening and captivating experience to see alternative ways people raised children.

Discouraged by the harsh Minnesota winters, they moved back to Los Angeles. She loved teaching children, but knew she needed to learn more about early childhood education. She planned on taking classes at USC or UCLA. However, her Minnesota colleagues told her the best place on the west coast to learn about teaching young children was at Pacific Oaks College.

She enrolled at the College in 1969, which at the time was on the same site as the Children’s School. After taking her first class in Human Development, she fell in love with the faculty, students, and social justice perspective. This was the first time that she had the opportunity to investigate how her upbringing affected her personal development. She did lots of soul searching and this experience at the College changed her life plans. Her life would take many twists and turns, but she finally graduated in 1977 with an M.A. in Human Development.

While Clark was at the College, her husband was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and was imprisoned at the Presidio in San Francisco for his refusal to serve. During this time, she became part of the peace movements in Los Angeles and San Francisco. She was thankful for the uplifting support received at her Quaker school!

By 1974, Clark was divorced and looking for a new start, something interesting and helpful to do. Other Pacific Oaks College graduates pointed her to a job directing a childcare center for the United Farm Workers in Delano, California. The children of Delores Huerta (Pacific Oaks 2016 Commencement speaker) and Richard Chavez, both leaders of the farm workers’ movement, were some of her students. Living within and learning from a culture different than her own was another important life enhancing experience.

After a career that started as a teacher’s aide in nursery schools and ended as a professor of Early Childhood Education, Clark retired in 2000 from Bakersfield College. Besides encouraging human development content from her students, she tried to promote their personal growth, modeled after her mentors at Pacific Oaks. One of her fondest memories with her college students was writing letters of recommendations for them to study at Pacific Oaks College.

Now living in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Clark remains a tireless worker for those populations that need a strong voice. She visits asylum-seekers at a Bakersfield private prison (detention center) who are waiting for hearings regarding entrance into the United States. She calls herself an environmentalist, writing letters, speaking at city and county hearings, trying to improve conditions for those living in the worst air in the nation, including herself. As an amateur botanist, she also reads and comments on documents relating to the Sequoia National Forest, hoping to ensure that the forest can be enjoyed by future generations of both critters and plants as well as humans.

Clark says that she will always be grateful to Pacific Oaks College for opening her eyes to her own potential and that of all others.