It’s Never Too Late to Earn Your College Degree

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If anyone ever tells you that you’re too old to go back to school, look them straight in the eye and tell them, “It’s never too late to go to school.”

I am a 43-year-old undergraduate history student that will soon be graduating from the University of Southern California. I am also a wife, and a mother of two.

I cannot tell you how excited I am to put on that cap and gown. For many years, I have dreamt about graduation day. I’ve envisioned it in my head many times over, having my name called out, and walking across the stage with great pride. Just the thought of it brings tears to my eyes.

As I get closer toward commencement day on May 11th, I can’t help but reflect on my long journey of making this dream a reality.

I am the daughter of Greek immigrant parents, and a sister to six siblings. When I was nine years old, our father died unexpectedly, and life for my family dramatically changed. I began college out of high school, but circumstances shifted my focus toward work and making ends meet.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I was able to do a weekend college program. I had a full-time job, and although it paid well, furthering my education was never far from my mind. I found myself enjoying the learning process, and stimulated by the classroom discussions.

Half-way into completing my undergraduate degree and somewhere in between working and going to school, I found time to fall in love with an amazing man.

Long story short: we got married and, after transferring to USC, I became pregnant with my first child. At that point, I decided to take a break from school and focus on child rearing.

Ten years and two kids later, I started thinking about going back to college. I called USC and they reinstated my program of study.

It was the fall of 2008, and by this time, I wasn’t your typical young college student; I had some mileage. Not wanting to take time away from my children, I paced myself. I started by taking one course, Black Politics in the American Political System.

I was 39 years old. I had been home with the kids for ten years, and I had doubts as to whether or not I could do this at my age. I also questioned my ability to be intellectually engaging.

But something inside of me kept saying, “Don’t let fear hold you back, just do it.” Ultimately, I was more fearful of never accomplishing my goal, so with the support of my family, I pushed forward.

I’ll never forget my first day back; it was both terrifying and exhilarating. I walked in with my hair in a ponytail, wearing my USC sweatshirt. I looked around the classroom at all of these much younger students and one of them asked me if I was the professor.

I politely said, “No” and took my seat. At that point, I felt even more committed to being the first out of seven kids in my family to earn my college degree.

Before long, I began feeling comfortable and confident in my skin, making friends, and taking more classes each semester. I hadn’t even thought about my age until one day, I was sitting in French class. We were asked to state our age and major in French. I couldn’t lie, so I said it out loud. All eyes were on me as the French teacher, yells out, “No!” And I said, “Oui!”

In that moment, the cat was out of the bag.

In another class, I was sitting next to a couple of football players and they began asking me what high school I had gone to and if I party on the row. I thought to myself, “Oh, this is hilarious, do these kids not see the wrinkles?” I think they got the hint when I said, “I am old enough to be your mother.”

Those same kids ended up becoming my buddies and every class would greet me with a fist bump and say, “What’s up mom?” From there on out, my age did not concern me.

Despite these odd moments, I persevered with the help of these life lessons:

Develop appreciation and gratitude.
Having had rich and varied life experiences, and then going back to school, definitely gave me a different perspective. I feel fortunate to be able to do this at my age. Being a history major makes it even more interesting because I have literally lived through more decades than the majority of my peers.

Let anyone and everyone teach you.
In addition to having marvelous professors, I’ve learned from the younger generation of students. This organic exchange between individuals of various backgrounds not only provides an intellectual experience, but also serves as a lesson in humility. I see this articulate and very capable generation as future leaders, and difference makers; they inspire me daily. I sit in class, and I think to myself, “Wow, I feel privileged to be here.”

Learn to Manage Your Time.
Juggling family and school has been easier than I anticipated. When you are determined to do something, instinctually you become more disciplined in managing time. While waiting for my kids to finish soccer practice, I’ll sit and read for class, or study. On my days off, when my kids are in school, I’ll work on assignments. You make time for what’s important and fit it into your daily life.

As graduation draws near, words cannot describe how happy I am that I went back to school. Education has not only expanded my mind, it opened my heart, and I see things that I never realized prior.

It’s never too late to accomplish your goals, and in the process, become a better version of yourself. Being in my forties and carving out the next chapter of my life is exciting.

I feel my journey is just beginning. I plan on continuing toward a Masters degree and teaching credential. I want to teach American history.

I may be closer to fifty by the time I finish, but I am going to be that age any way so why not continue to educate myself along the way?

About the Author

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Renna Delio currently lives in Southern California with her husband Damien and her two children, Natalie and Noah. In addition to being a wife and mother, she is a history student at the University of Southern California. She has a passion for learning, and hopes to have a teaching career in the near future. She also enjoys writing; Renna is the author of a children's book, Katherina the Pretty Tomboy.

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