Never Too Late: My Journey Back To School After Retiring
There is a maxim that says people come into our lives for a reason and a season. Influencers sometimes appear like genies without warning or explanation. We must recognize them and determine if we want to travel the path they try to lead us.
I believe Olga came into my orbit for a reason.
My life was advancing swimmingly when I attended the first meeting of a new writer’s group in my town. Olga and I were the first to arrive. We introduced ourselves and exchanged copies of one of our books. I retired seven years after a thirty-seven-year banking career but became an author while working full-time.
At the second group meeting, Olga pulled me aside when it ended. “I finished reading your book. I enjoyed the story very much,” she said, her voice drenched with honey. “You know what I would do if I were you?”
“What?” I asked abruptly. I detest people who offer advice when it is not asked for, especially when I didn’t know them well.
“I suggest you do an English degree at the university. Nothing is wrong with your English, but I have that degree, and it helps me greatly to add texture to my writing. It will do the same for yours.”
I took a deep breath and slowly calmed down. Okay, the advice about texture is good.
I’ve always felt that my writing was not textured enough. I’d tried to improve it, but the writing courses I took and the numerous books about writing I’d read, had not helped to master texture.
I thanked Olga for her advice and thought about it. Later, I learned she has five degrees, including two PhDs. I concluded that she would be versed in texture and that pursuing the degree would help to improve my writing.
My reasons for pursuing a degree
As I deliberated on Olga’s suggestion, thoughts of other potential benefits of attending university came to mind.
Dementia was ravishing more and more seniors every day. In his book Chasing Life, Dr Sanjay Gupta quoted from the Alzheimer’s Association: “When you’re sixty-five, there’s a one in ten chance you are affected by writer’s the time you’re over eighty-five, there’s almost a one in two chance you have the disease.” Several researchers concluded that exercising the mind could ward off dementia. I figured that pursuing an English degree could help avert it.
I learned that humans are social beings. Attending university would motivate me to get dressed and leave the house a few days each week to be with people. It would provide a consistent structure for the years of my studies.
Another reason was to inspire my two young grandsons. I wanted to show them that you are never too old to learn and to encourage them to aim to attend university after graduating from high school.
Achieving my goals with honesty and commitment
I set a goal to earn the degree in six years, culminating with a grand seventieth birthday party. Why six years? I had committed to being on a government board and three committees, was the head teller at my church, and was the emergency babysitter for my grandsons.
I didn’t want to neglect those duties. I wished to avoid stress and maintain a balanced life. But I had the fault that many boomers have—disciplined, conscientious, and committed to hard work. These traits cultivated resilience and helped me to achieve my goals.
Dealing with unexpected hurdles
During my studies, I climbed a steep mountain, trying to reach its summit, and stumbled upon obstacles, including two strikes, one lasting 143 days; the COVID-19 pandemic that caused the lockdown of the campus; hard-to-connect-with millennials; and the topmost one—a diagnosis of sarcoma cancer. I was hellbent on earning the degree and stayed the course because of my faith in God and strong support from family members, the church community, and amazing friends.
Striving for better
The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) motto is “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” These are the goals of Olympians. I did not aim for superlatives; however, I never wanted to be a mediocre student. Obtaining the minimum of a B was my goal.
I was in the middle of the 20th Century Children’s Literature class with nine credits remaining to earn my degree when I received a call from a radiologist to report to the hospital for five weeks of radiation treatment, five days per week.
“I’m doing a course at York University, and I don’t want to withdraw from it. Will I be okay to continue my studies while receiving radiation treatments?” I asked. “Radiation will not affect your brain,” the professor said. We both laughed. “You can continue your studies.”
Against all odds
Six weeks after radiation treatments ended, I underwent a thirteen-hour surgery to remove the sarcoma tumours from my right thigh. Unable to walk unaided, I spent two months in a rehab hospital.
I continued my studies, and every day nurses pushed me in a wheelchair to the tall, broad windows at the front of the room. They brought me my over-the-bed table, notebook, laptop and pens. There, I sat, zooming into the lectures for my final course and doing all my assignments. The nurses dubbed me “The student patient”.
When depression crept in
Some days, I felt sorry for myself because I could not walk without assistance or do much for myself. I had to press the call button for the nurses to take me to the washroom. Some days depression seeped in like a ghost.
One morning, sitting by the window, doing schoolwork while the day nurse made my bed, a sheet of paper with some notes fell off my table and slid to the ground. I tried different ways to retrieve it, but I couldn’t. Out of the blue, I burst into tears. I hadn’t cried in years.
The poor Philipino nurse dropped the sheet, rushed over, and picked up the document. “It’s okay, Miss Yvonne. I know it’s frustrating when you can’t do the things you’re used to, but give it time,” she consoled me while rubbing my back.
I had a good cry, felt better, and resumed my studies.
Hard work pays off
During my study years, the university awarded me a continuing education scholarship in 2017, 2018, and 2019. The Golden Key International Honour Society invited me to become a member. Devoted to helping its members achieve excellence through the advancement of academics, leadership, and service, the organization has more than two million members worldwide. It offers membership only to high-achieving university students in the top 15 per cent of their programs. I was flattered to the tenth degree.
I am ecstatic that I took on the challenge, climbed the mountain, and graduated magna cum laude from York University. I hope this story inspires and motivates readers, especially retirees, to return to school and do courses, even a degree, or pursue goals you dreamed about but never followed up.
Do not allow age to deter you. I admit that the millennials earned their degree much faster than I did, and there were times when I wished I had a sharper brain, quicker memory, and painless joints. But as they say, no pain, no gain!
Go for it! Pursue your dreams with determination.
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