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Never too late
My mother is going back to college at 89
My mother came to visit in July. We were talking about her early life one day, probably after my sister’s daily text with photos scanned from an old album. There were photos from the Iowa farm where she grew up, a 4H fashion show, high school graduation.
“The only thing I really regret is that I never got a college degree,” Mom said. “People ask me where I went to school, and of course I know they mean college.”
“But you took a lot of classes at DeAnza,” I said. DeAnza is a community collegein Cupertino, California, very close to the house we moved to in 1968 and where Mom lived until a couple years ago. “How many credits did you have?”
This led to a conversation about the classes she took in the early 1970s, how unsupportive my father was (they divorced, so that problem was resolved), and how she’d stopped going when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Hm, I thought. Mom is almost 89 but she’s in good health and has all her marbles. She pays close attention to the news. In fact, the turbulence of the last decade seems to have made her far more interested in government, social issues, and world affairs than she was when she was younger.
“It’s not too late,” I said.
My mother has dealt with me for a long time, but I think she was still a little startled when I got on the phone with DeAnza and told the counselor that my mother wanted to finish her AA degree and could they look up her transcript - from nearly 50 years ago.
The staffers at DeAnza were great. They found the microfiche records, set up Zoom counselling, and went through her credits to figure out what classes she would need to take to fulfill all the requirements. So many classes are now offered online that Mom can actually complete her degree at DeAnza from her new home in Denver.
My brother Dave, who lives near her in Denver, will provide tech support. She is now registered to take 2 classes during the fall quarter and should be able to graduate with an AA (Associate) degree before her 90th birthday.
Then, of course, she can start working on her BA.
This has, naturally, made me think about the paths available to young women like my mother in the 1950s. You may remember that I wrote a little about her family 2 years ago. That’s Mom, top left.
When Mom graduated from Conway High School, she immediately left the farm, just as her older brother and sister had done. She went to California, stayed with her sister and brother-in-law until her best friend came out. She and May lived together for several years. Mom got a job with Dow Chemical doing tests on synthetic fibers, and had what was obviously - from the photo albums - a lively social life. Camping at Yosemite, skiing at Tahoe, picnics in San Francisco, and lots of parties.
My father was on his way to Korea when they met. After his military stint, he went back to Purdue (he was the first in his family to go to college). He flew to California at Christmas, and by the time he went back to Indiana she was pregnant. They married at the end of January, and my brother and I were born in September. In less than 6 years, they had 5 children.
Only after the fifth child was born did they have enough money saved to move out of the trailer park into our first house in Minnesota. Mom ensured that we were always beautifully turned out and that her home was spotless, and she looks beautiful herself in the photographs. But how tired she must have been! And what a life for a young woman who’d been independent and living it up in California!
We moved to Cupertino in 1968 - Dad was in the computer business by then - and thanks to the proximity of the community college, she did start taking classes. After my parents divorced, she did some training and got a job as an operating room technician at Stanford Hospital. She again had a lively social life, but somehow finishing school just didn’t come into the picture.
Perhaps it’s having her female grandchildren graduating from college and law school that got her reflecting on her own path in life. After all, she was president and valedictorian of her high school class. Admittedly there were only 5 graduating seniors, but it’s still surprising that a girl, not a boy, was the class president. It’s even more surprising that no one pushed her to go to college. Her parents had no money at all, but she could have applied for a scholarship.
We all like to be reminded that every day is an opportunity to make a fresh start, and I can’t think of anything better than this. Here’s what Mom signed up to take this coming quarter:
ES 2: Introduction to Sustainability An introduction to sustainability through environmental, social, and economic evaluation. Students will learn the influence of societal resource use, distribution, and waste on earth. Climate change, power dynamics, and leadership are observed as influences on sustainability.
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California’s community college system was, and is, a wonderful thing: open to all and with remarkable campuses. I’ve been reminded of how we took for granted having an Olympic-size pool only a 10-minute walk from our house. Bored at high school, I took my first college class, Introduction to Philosophy, at DeAnza when I was 14. Read about DeAnza.