By Nancy Radecker
“Age is only a number. It is never too late and you are never too old to achieve your dreams.”
Against all odds, how this GRANDmom went back to college and achieved her dream.
Becoming a Grandma at age 43 with the birth of my oldest granddaughter, Isabelle, and then completely changing my career from working in our elementary school district as a media aide, to working in the biology department at Hofstra University was challenging.
The career change allowed me to return to college as I had only completed one year after graduating HS in 1982 at a different college. Choosing to earn a B.B.A. degree in Information System and a minor in Radio, Video, Film & TV and knowing it would take years to complete, as I worked full-time, was daunting.
I took two classes, and sometimes three and balanced the workload, family life and church volunteering and wore many hats. It was a difficult course load with the hardest being accounting, finance, and other math enriched classes but taking 2 semesters of business stats was by far the most difficult. All of the other students most of which just graduated high school took calculus but my highest level of math had barely been algebra and that was over 26 years in the past, so I was really at a disadvantage.
It was very stressful but I battled on and got through the classes. Going back to college proved to be quite an interesting journey as I sat in the classroom with fellow students that were younger than my children. My favorite part was always the first day of classes. I would walk into the room and the students would get quiet and settle in, thinking I was the professor. As I would sit down next to them and proceed to take out my notebook from my pink messenger bag, their faces would be priceless. I got support from the students from the very first student event.
In 2008, I attended freshman orientation over the summer because I wanted to have the whole college experience. I honestly had no idea how to be a college student. It was so much fun and I made friends with others in my group and orientation leaders who all supported me, even to this day. We still stay in touch via Facebook. Having had a Facebook profile since 2006, I documented my journey online from the very start by posting the question, “Should I apply and go back to school?” Everyone, of course, was supportive and so I applied and was accepted.
Being older than some of my professors was also interesting at times. Many of them, at the end of the semester, said that they enjoyed having a completely different point of view from the younger students, due to my life’s experiences.
I found it humorous when in a class discussion I would have interesting insights when the topic would be about some point-in-time before my fellow students or the professor were even born. In my IT classes discussing a time before computers and cell phone and how business still got done would really be fun.
Group projects were awkward at times especially when the professor would have us make our own groups. That situation would best be compared to back when you were in gym classes and the teacher would have a captain pick the teammates taking turns back and forth, and I of course, would be put on the last team because no one was left. Sometimes I thought the students would think I may be really smart because I was so old and could help the team; little did they know that I had no idea or clue. Afterall, that is why I was taking the classes. Other times, it would be the complete opposite; who wants the old lady? She probably doesn’t even know how to use a computer.
Other fun moments of being an older returning student was on the first day of a class when the professor would have the students go around the room and say their name, major, and something about yourself. Most of the students would say things like “I graduated from blah, blah high school, play video games, go shopping, and talk about how many brothers or sisters they have. I on the other hand would say “Hi my name is…., my major is….. and I have been married for over 30 years to my high school sweetheart, I have two daughters, I have a motorcycle license, and enjoy all technology, plants, animals, salt water fishing and spending time with my three granddaughters. This would bring out the shock and awe faces. Yes, this class will have a grandma in it!
I wondered how different I was as a student compared to my peers, but thankfully, I was assured by several professors that the only difference would be that I would actually do my homework and so I will do fine.
There were many challenges along the seven-year journey. In 2010 at the start of the fall semester, my oldest daughter Cheryl, gave birth to our 2nd granddaughter, Kirstin. I had to miss my first day of class to be with her. I had to scramble to email the professor and explain why I would not be there, he replied that it the first time one of his students had to miss class due to their daughter giving birth LOL.
In December of that year, I saw my mom take her last breathe and ten minutes later my husband was involved in a serious car accident and suffered multiple skull fractures and sustained a traumatic brain injury.
I did not drop classes; I stayed the course. While caring and watching over my dad, now widowed, as his health declined. Then in 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed Long Island and caused flood damage to his home. I sadly said goodbye to him in August 2013 after he battled cancer, that quickly took his life.
In 2014 I was coping with the selling of my childhood home which was really difficult. I had no prior experience dealing with the things you have to go through after losing your parents, but I battled on. Just to make this time of my life even more challenging, I was also caring for my husband who still suffers from lasting effects from the car accident daily and my younger daughter Kristin gave birth to our third granddaughter, Lillian.
In 2015 we moved again. The challenges of my aging were also a factor that I could not deny. My memory was not as good as when I was younger and studying for tests was difficult. I had to learn how to study several times; then study the morning of a test so I would be able to retain the large quantities of material.
So, my seven-year-journey ended on May 15, 2016 at age 52 when I walked across the stage, after my name was announced, and became a graduate of the Hofstra University Zarb School of Business. I had a overall GPA of 3.466 and 130 credits completed and was the first in my family to earn a college degree.
My mother had never completed high school, dropping out to work and help support her brothers and sisters. She was a “Rosie the Riveter” during WW II. My father who attended Hofstra for a couple of classes never completed his college degree. They were both so excited when I was accepted and began working on my degree. They supported me right up until their passing.
In the audience was my husband, our daughters with their families and my brother and his wife cheering me on. I later was told by my daughter that my middle granddaughter Kirstin who is five years old was upset that they did not call me “Oma”. How priceless is that? Unfortunately, many times my three granddaughters could not come over and play with Oma because I had to study for test, or have homework to complete.
I am proud to say that I did not give up and stayed the course. Age is only a number. It is never too late and you are never too old to achieve your dreams.