Promises that had to be kept: Alumna remembers her journey to attend PBSC
When Dorothy Sanders moved to Riviera Beach in January 1957, attending college was not on her list of life ambitions. Her dream was simple: join her husband and his family in South Florida because there were better opportunities for people of color. At the time, she was pregnant with her first child and remembers the bus ride clearly.
“My husband and I wanted a better future for our children, and I wanted a better life than what Georgia had to offer,” she said.
Life was no crystal stair in South Florida in the beginning, but Sanders was never shy or short of being noticed. Her first job was with Palm Beach County Linens as a laundry attendant. “I got that job thinking I would sew, but that wasn’t the case, so I quickly decided it wasn’t for me.”
For years, Sanders ran a busy sewing business from home. “I had clothes all lined up down my hall until finally one of my clients from the Health Department said she could get me a job with her.”
Sanders worked at the Palm Beach County Health Department for three years as a clinical aid in the maternity unit when her supervisor encouraged her to enroll at then Palm Beach State Junior College.
“My supervisor told me that the college was accepting black students, and she thought I’d make a good nurse. I had never thought about college, but I knew I could get a job if I had a better education. My husband wanted me to keep our promise, so I went.”
Sanders enrolled in the nursing program at Palm Beach Junior College in 1972 and was determined to finish. In the beginning, there were only six or seven African American students in the program. “They were dropping like flies,” she recalls, “and the next thing I knew, I was the only one.”
In 1973, she became the only African American to graduate and pass the state nursing exam on the first attempt. Dorothy then went on to serve a 45-year tenure at 45th Street Mental Health Center retiring in 2020. During her tenure, she received the Palm Beach County Nurse of the Year award in 2007. Today, Palm Beach State College is renowned for its outstanding pass rates for its nursing students.
Sanders remembers fondly, “Nothing was going to turn me around; I was determined because I had a promise to keep.”
And her promise has been fulfilled.
In recognition of Palm Beach State College’s 90th anniversary, the weekly Alumni Spotlight Series showcases the College’s role in preparing generations of graduates to achieve success in myriad careers and give back to their local communities.