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Curtis G. Aikens

When Curtis G. Aikens Sr. received his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership on May 18, he admired it, and then he read it. Reading was something he was not able to do when he started his college journey 28 years ago. Aikens, a nationally-known celebrity chef and an educational advocate, didn’t learn to read or write until he was 26 years old.

After attempting college twice, Curtis came to California to escape the embarrassment and humiliation that had been chasing him the first half of his life. He stopped running by the time he discovered Dominican. “This is an incredible place,” Aikens says. “You feel like you’re coming home here.”

Enrolled in the graduate program at Dominican the past two years, Aikens’ thesis was entitled “Leading by Example: Creating Motivation that Fosters Change in Young People.” His thesis is basically his autobiography, a tale told 11 years ago when Aikens was featured in “The American Dream: Stories from The Heart of Our Nation,” written by Dan Rather, former CBS Network Evening News anchor.

Aikens’ thesis includes his time spent in Dominican’s “Courage to Teach®” program. The program features a series of seasonal retreats that resonated with Aikens.

“The program itself was instrumental in Curtis being able to find the courage to accept himself. Sure, he had some areas of weaknesses but he had a lot of strengths to draw on, especially his ability to analyze complex ideas,” saus Margaret Golden, associate professor and director of the program. “He is a wonderful spokesman. He has such leadership potential because he speaks authentically and from his heart.”

Aiken’s thesis is a testament that he believes can inspire and motivate people – young and old – to learn they can succeed if they only ask for help. Aikens is a living example.  Once he learned to read and write after seeking assistance from a free literacy program through the Marin County Library, he started his own produce business, a company called Peaches, which put him on the path to become a television star on The Food Network.

“The four ideals really hit home with me,” he says. “The human resources we have on this campus are magnificent. You have to go out and meet these people at this school, not to get a good grade but to just open up your world. That’s what this school has done for me.”

It has inspired him to help others, particularly young people. He is giving back, helping fundraise for literacy programs across the country.

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