Far Out Friday: Grandma goes back to school

by Sarah Bachman17 Jun 2016

A 74-year-old grandmother will this year graduate from Year 12 and complete her South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE), 57 years after her last round of schooling.

Noelene Ferguson said her decision to return was motivated by her desire to be productive in her retirement, and to do something she had always loved – art.

“I think a lot of people think I'm crazy. When I retired I didn't want to sit in front of the telly doing nothing all day. It's for a sense of achievement. If these gorgeous young people can do it, why can't I?” Ferguson told ABC News.

Her love of art prompted her to enrol at the Naracoorte Independent Learning Centre three years ago, and despite some of the students not quite knowing how to take to their new classmate, she soon settled in and began making friends.

“When I first started and walked into the classroom, they all moved aside and I was left sitting there. It was obvious to me that they didn't want me anywhere near them,” she said.

“It took me nearly three months, then one day I walked in and one of the boys said, 'Oh hi Noelsy, come and sit with me'. And I thought to myself, yes, I'm one of them.”

Ferguson, who was enrolled at Edenhope's St Malachys School in the 1950s, reflected on how significantly the education landscape had changed over the decades since she was a young student.

“It's very relaxed. No-one yells at me and no-one tells me to stop talking. Sister Mary Rose taught me piano and my knuckles were always sore at the end of every piano lesson,” she said.

However, campus manager, Tammy Schinkel, said the only punishment given to students was self-administered — if you don't do the work, you simply won't pass.

“I better pass – I've told too many people I'm going to now,” she said.

And Ferguson isn’t alone when it comes to putting her ‘better late than never’ philosophy’ into action.

Another senior citizen half way across the world in Nepal – 68-year-old Durga Kami – recently decided to go back to school following the death of his wife.

Kami said he was forced out of school by poverty as a kid and never fulfilled his dream of teaching.

Despite using a walking cane, Kami is eager to participate in all school activities — even volleyball. His 14 and 15-year-old classmates, initially wary of the “old man” sitting among them in the classroom, have grown to like him and started calling him “Baa,” or “father” in Nepali.

“To forget my sorrows I go to school,” Kami told Reuters.

“If they [students] see an old person with white beard like me studying in school they might get motivated as well.”
 

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