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Highlighting Alums: Cosmetology Becomes Clemmons’s Lifework

Submitted by on August 29, 2013 – 2:15 pmNo Comment
Sylvia Clemmons (standing) and Tippie Gilliard.

Sylvia Clemmons (standing) and Tippie Gilliard.

In 1975, Sylvia Clemmons had the opportunity to do what other high school students only dreamed of doing. She was the first Highlands County student to graduate from high school while simultaneously earning her occupational certification from South Florida State College’s Cosmetology Program.

Today, high school students commonly take college courses through the dual enrollment program, but in Clemmons’ youth no such program existed. Because she was the first high school senior to be admitted to the Cosmetology Program, SFSC – then known as South Florida Junior College – used her as a ground-breaking case. If she succeeded, the doors would open to other high school students.

Clemons jumped at the opportunity. At the time, she only needed one-half credit to graduate from Lake Placid High School, and she wasn’t interested in taking electives just to pass time. “I did my research and chose SFJC’s Cosmetology Program,” Clemons said. “I always wanted to be a hairdresser, and it ran in my family. I was ready to go to work. I liked the idea of being able to earn high school credits for graduation and completing cosmetology school at the same time.”

Only 20 students were admitted into the Cosmetology Program, making 16-year-old Clemons the youngest in a group that ranged in age to 70. Her youth proved not to be a barrier. “I fit in just fine,” Clemmons said. “SFJC offered a professional and respectful environment. When I needed help or fell behind, my older classmates would help me pick up the slack.”

“My instructor, Bernice Walker, was extremely talented and an asset to the program. She taught me so much and spent the extra time with us to make sure we were on the right track, even if that meant staying after class was over. It was a wonderful place to come to every day.”

Clemmons proved to be an excellent student and exceeded expectations. In 1976, she graduated from Lake Placid High School and earned her SFJC certificate a week later.

Immediately after graduation, Clemmons began her career as a hair stylist, and one she continues to this day. Her first job was at Fran’s Hair Salon in Wauchula. At age 19, she opened her own salon in Wauchula, which she operated for 11 years. Currently, Clemmons works at New Beginnings hair salon in Sebring.

“My main goal is to make sure every customer is satisfied with their haircut,” she said. “One good hair cut can turn a customer’s day around. If I accomplish this I feel like I’ve done my job. Also, if the customer is pleased, this will help to ensure repeat business.”

“It’s not just about hair, I get the opportunity to meet new people and hear their stories,” Clemmons said.  “I’ve met so many people and developed new relationships over the years. I get to meet people from all different walks of life. I’m so grateful.”

“SFJC took a chance on me,” Clemmons said. “I received a wonderful education and was able to enter the workforce right after graduation. Being a hairdresser has fit every season of life for me. I have never wanted to be anything else. I thank God for allowing me to have this talent and will never take it for granted.”

SFSC’s 10-1/2 month Cosmetology Program focuses on careers in hair design, nail services, and skin care. Following completion, students receive an occupational certificate that enables them to take the state licensing exam for cosmetologists and also register as a skin care specialist with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Individual classes are available in skin care and nail specialties for students who wish to develop or enhance specific skills.

For more information about the Cosmetology Program, call Timothy Johnson, program manager, at 863-784-7143 or email timothy.johnson@southflorida.edu.

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