This 89-Year-Old Woman Went Back to School & Earned Her Degree

Proving that it’s never too late to achieve a “childhood dream,” 89-year-old Alma Kocialek not only went back to school while in her 80s, but she also just recently earned her degree in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies from Toronto’s York University – making her the oldest person to do so. The Brampton resident will soon attend her well-earned graduation ceremony.

Kocialek initially pursued her degree at York in 1978, but needed to put her studies on hold so that she could work. After her husband passed away in 2011 following a battle with cancer, Kocialek decided it was time to get back to school.

“I knit and I would never want to knit a sweater and leave it without a sleeve or a collar,” explained Kocialek in an interview with CBC News. “I thought now’s as good a time as any. I have to finish my education.”

Kocialek enrolled in fall and summer classes, getting to school via her car and public transit. Once at York, Kocialek had an easy time grasping her courses. It was the technology, however, that initially caused her trouble.

“Once I was on the last paragraph [of an essay] and a blue light came on the computer and the whole thing crashed,” recalled Kocialek. “I lost everything. I nearly gave up, but then I thought ‘no electronic device is going to deter me from finishing this paper.’”

As for re-entering University in her 80s and fitting in, that didn’t prove to be a problem for Kocialek.

“Most people were very supportive,” noted Kocialek. “There were others telling me, ‘Why are you going back to school? You don’t have to.’ But those people are just negative or jealous.”

-Adam Grant
-Photo by: Celeta Irvin

By Kocialek heading back to school at such an advanced age, not only did she have a powerful educational experience, but she also stepped out into the world at an age when many seniors isolate themselves. To learn more about the issue of social isolation, have a look at this recent episode of “theZoomer”: