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Aging & Society

The Joy of Going Back to School

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As graduation ceremonies take place in cities around the world, it’s worth taking a moment to note that some of the women and men wearing caps and gowns are far beyond their twenties.

Education is, after all, a lifelong pursuit.

Here, members of the GetOld community share the deep satisfaction of returning to college later in life. 

“When my wife accepted a job that necessitated a move from California to Washington, D.C., I decided to get my associate’s degree at the local college. When I started that first class, I wasn’t really sure if being a student was going to work out. I’m pleased to report that I’ll soon be graduating, at age 56, with honors and a general studies degree. One of the highlights for me has been the interaction with students less than half my age who bring a variety of perspectives to all of the subjects that I have studied. In addition, I’ve discovered a real interest in art history and architecture. When my wife and I travel, I am the “tour guide” who can speak intelligently about famous works of art as we visit museums around the world. Today, I’m about a month from graduation day and anticipate feeling proud as my supportive wife cheers me on from the crowd.”

Mark Angelich; Washington, D.C.

“Ever since graduating from college in 1987, I’ve taken classes on and off – French, Italian, writing, editing, web publishing, digital marketing, among others. A couple of years ago, I started a certificate program to learn textile and surface design at Otis College of Art & Design, in Los Angeles. A couple of things really surprised me: One, I immediately felt like a kid again when I started to draw, paint, or create something. The three-hour class seemed to fly by in a minute. 

I was also surprised to find that the self-editing part of my personality had mostly gone away compared to my earlier years. Somehow, I became much more accepting of what I created and a lot more appreciative of how much I enjoy the process. I definitely wish I was better at it, but I just love doing it so much and that’s worth a lot. I probably won't ever be a professional textile designer (though who knows?), but I can’t wait to retire and pursue all the things I'd love to learn.”

Lorie Wegener; Long Beach, CA

“Twenty years ago, on a June day with rain pouring down, I graduated from Ohio State University at the age of 46. At 39, recently divorced and needing to support my daughter, I had decided to return to college in hopes of winning a better job. It had taken me seven years of hard work to earn my degree. I had persevered through days when it was easier to quit. When I graduated, I’d already secured my dream job: advertising manager for Ohio State University!

Returning to college was the greatest gift I ever gave myself. I not only landed a very significant position, but I made my daughter, parents, and siblings very proud. I gained a confidence that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to.”

Amy Ax; Somerset, OH

“I’m 62 years old, and, for the past four years, I’ve been attending Mount Holyoke, a women’s college in South Hadley, Massachusetts, as an English major. My focus had always been on my family. I had six children, and I homeschooled them for many years.  But when my marriage crumbled, what I’d envisioned as my future with my husband was gone. I had dropped out of nursing college when I was a junior, but all of my kids had graduated from college. Some have post-graduate degrees.

About five years ago, I started thinking, ‘Now it’s my turn.’ I dipped my toe back in the water with a single class at my community college. While there, I heard about the Frances Perkins Program at Mount Holyoke, a very generous scholarship program for students who are retuning to college after an interruption in their education. I applied to the program and was accepted. Most of my fellow Frances Perkins scholars are closer to my children’s ages, in their late 20s, but not all. Last year, a 70-year-old Perkins scholar graduated.

I sometimes feel like I’m walking in as the grandmother, but I’ve actually been accepted like any other student. I may be the oldest one in the classroom (and that includes my professors), but this is a very welcoming community and I’ve relished making friendships across generations.

The most satisfying thing about going back to school has been being in an arena where I can be successful. When you’re raising teenagers, you never feel successful! I’ve always been an overachiever, and, like all my fellow Perkins scholars, we put everything we have into our studies. It means more to us because we’ve taken a non-traditional path to get here.

I’ll be graduating in spring 2020. That marks a big achievement, but I’m going to miss being so deeply involved in this wonderful campus and community. Still, going out in the world and creating a new future has been exhilarating. And now I get to ask myself the question, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’”

Jean Johnson; Holyoke, Massachusetts

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