By Auditi Guha
Published on May 22, 2014
NEW BEDFORD — Walter Pires went to Bristol Community College for one semester after high school before he dropped out. He got a job and didn’t think twice about higher education — until he was laid off last March.
“I felt both sad and relieved,” Pires said after 16 years of working at a call center. “Like they say, when one door closes, another one opens.”
The lifelong New Bedford resident will be one of eight BCC students receiving an associate’s in business administration on May 31 through the Fast Track Weekend program.
“I’m so happy for him,” said Dolores Gatley, psychology teacher and career counselor, who gave Pires a big hug at BCC’s New Bedford campus on Tuesday. “Look at him. He looks so happy, vibrant and ready to take on the world.”
Gatley first met Pires at the career center last year and talked to him about the fast track program that helps non-traditional students earn the degree in 12 months with intense weekend classes and online homework.
“It’s very hard and it’s not for everyone,” Gatley said. “But we talked and I came to understand he had a great deal of ambition.”
“It takes a certain kind of person because they have to be very committed,” said Karen Varieur, director of campus operations in New Bedford. “Those who did it and are graduating loved it.”
Originally crafted to attract people like Pires who had lost their jobs, the program in its second year is drawing professionals who want to earn a degree fast. Credits are transferable for those who want to work toward a bachelor’s degree, Varieur said.
Married with two kids, Pires, 40, said his wife Lena, an educator, always wanted him to go back to school. He thought it would be too hard at his age and with a family.
Lena Pires, the middle school principal at Global Learning Charter Public School, said a degree is essential in today’s world to better position oneself in a career.
“He’s an intelligent man. For years I’ve been trying to get him to go back to school,” she said. “I’m hoping this will be his first of many more (degrees).”
For now, Pires has a different plan.
“I’ve always wanted to own and operate a food truck,” he said.
He said he plans to buy a used food truck, apply for small business loans, cook and sell the Portuguese food he grew up on, like bacalhau, linguica and chourico.
The New Bedford City Council passed an ordinance last October to give food trucks more leeway to do business in the city.
The middle child of three, Pires is first-generation Portuguese; he said his father worked late shifts at the Titleist factory and hardly saw his family. His mother is a wonderful cook and has already volunteered to help him in his venture, he said.
A week away from the graduation ceremony his whole family plans to attend, Pires said he is happy he completed the program despite how intense it was and how many birthdays he missed. College, he said, will be imperative for his sons, aged 9 and 11.
“I want them to be better than me and accomplish more, just like my dad wanted me to,” he said.
Pires is the subject of a BCC student success video, part of series highlighting model students for commencement next week.