Sunday 20 October 2019

Woman, 84, rejects bingo in retirement to graduate from university

Janet Fein will graduate this week with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Janet Fein graduated from the University of Texas (LM Otero/AP)
Janet Fein graduated from the University of Texas (LM Otero/AP)

By Jamie Stengle, Associated Press

Janet Fein could not be blamed for finally relaxing, after bringing up five children and retiring at the age of 77 from her secretarial job, but that’s not her.

Ms Fein, now 84, returned to studying and will accomplish a long-held goal this week when she graduates from the University of Texas in Dallas with a bachelor’s degree.

“I didn’t have anything to do in retirement and I didn’t think that playing bingo was up to my speed,” said Ms Fein, who studied sociology because she felt it was “substantial”.

She said she enjoyed all the reading and writing papers. “With each class I already knew a lot, but then I also learned a lot. And that made me happy,” she said.

People 65 and older make up less than 1% of US college students. In 2015, they accounted for about 67,000 of about 20 million college students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“Keeping oneself active and vital and giving yourself something to look forward to like that is just a really positive move,” said Dr Carmel Dyer, executive director of the UTHealth Consortium on Aging at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Ms Fein took part in a state programme that allows people aged 65 and older to take up to six credit hours for free at public universities in Texas.

About 2,000 people took advantage of the offer last year, according to the Texas Higher Education Co-ordinating Board.

Ms Fein said she wanted the degree “with all of my heart” and kept going to classes even as she went from living on her own and driving herself around to needing a walking aid and oxygen, and eventually moving to a home for the elderly.

Then her knees gave out, so she did a term of independent study and took online classes to fulfil her degree requirements.

“She did not give up in the midst of her challenges, she just kept plugging along,” said Ms Fein’s college adviser, Sheila Rollerson.

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Janet Fein said bingo wasn’t for her (pjrimages/etty)

Tracy Glass, 40, befriended Ms Fein after they both took front-row seats in a class.

“I sat right next to her and over the course of the semester built a fast friendship with her,” said Ms Glass, who said Ms Fein’s firsthand memories of world events – like the women’s movement – enlivened discussions.

Carol Cirulli Lanham, a senior lecturer in sociology, said: “She would speak up a lot in class and I think that it just made for a more interesting class … because she literally remembered some of the times we were talking about.”

Ms Fein, who grew up in the Bronx in New York City, said that at school she just wanted to leave and get a job.

After leaving at the age of 16 she went to work as a secretary at a dress manufacturer.

She married, spent 18 years staying home with her children and worked at several jobs over the decades, including a 20-year stint as a secretary at a Dallas orthopaedic hospital, the job she retired from in 2012.

She also worked on her associate degree for two decades before earning it in 1995.

Renee Brown, a certified nursing assistant who is one of Ms Fein’s carers, said Ms Fein had inspired her.

At 53, she plans to enrol in a programme to become a licensed vocational nurse.

“She said, ‘Renee, you can do it. If I can do it you can do it and you will feel so good about it’,” Ms Brown said.

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