Life as a 62-Year-Old College Student

Education is a resource that students take part in to explore their career interests. With a college degree being essential for the work force, our generation is required to partake in a four-year (realistically, five or more) degree at a university.

We hear of adults going back to school, but rarely see them on campus. For anyone who re-enrolls years later, it is incredibly different. Dealing with a new generation and an updated education program is more overwhelming than one thinks.

Grand Central sat down with Katherine Shumway, a 62-year-old student at Central Michigan University. With an interest in studying recreational therapy, she decided to re-enroll at CMU over 40 years later.

Grand Central Magazine: Why did you re-enroll after over 40 years?

Katherine Shumway: I came back to CMU because I started at CMU in the ’70s. Logically, I stood to get further ahead credit wise. Education is always important and we should always learn no matter the age.

Graduating college is important to me because I am proving to myself that I can!

The major I signed is recreational therapy. I want to work with the aging population because I am one of them. It is a growing area and a very big concern. I was volunteering in a nursing home when the activity director said I was so good with the residents that I needed to get my degree because they needed people in the field like me who were capable of “thinking outside of the box” and were creative and kind.

GC: What are you trying to prove by coming back to CMU?

KS: To complete something I started a long time ago. It is as simple as that. Nothing more.

GC: What about a career and marriage?

KS: I had no degree and experimented in every field. I got married and basically put [my husband] through a bachelor’s and master’s degree in economics. We moved to the Detroit area and struggled to keep our marriage going. He was a drug addict and alcoholic working for the federal government.

So he would not get in trouble, I did his job for him. I calculated the flood information for the Detroit River. He was not showing up for work. He told his superiors that he was working from home. When you are doing algebraic calculations for marshy areas, you do a lot of field work near water areas. So, if it floods in the Metro-Detroit area, it is my fault.

I expected to be the proverbial “happy homemaker” with a husband and children. But, that did not work out for me. Instead I ended up homeless and on the streets of Detroit. I quickly had to learn to survive. This meant I needed a job, which meant job skills.

At that time the highest paying job for me as a woman was a word processing secretary. I found that I had organizational skills necessary for a good administrative assistant. My career took off from there. I learned hard and fast. Accounting skills, legal skills and risk management skills soon followed.

GC: How is interacting with younger students?

KS: I love the young people, however, the feelings are not reciprocated. I try so hard to be nice and conversational, but still feel disconnected.

Group projects are the worst. I need the assistance of the professors because the students never choose me to be a part of their group. Being forced into a group is not the best answer either. It is not like I will tell them how to live their lives, it is just to get classwork completed.

I have a very rich and colorful past to share but it seems that no one is interested. The faculty is just as guilty. My adviser planned out my schedule and told me not to come back until it was time to enter into my internship.

I do not know if the path I am on is correct and have no one to ask. I have legally registered learning disabilities, and when giving the paperwork to the professors, it is just the same as killing a tree for nothing. This paperwork is never honored.

Aging is a very difficult process. I do not need additional setbacks created by a situation that I cannot control.


When talking about diversity, discimination of age seems rare. Why does it feel rare? A college campus consists of those ages 18-25 – the most desirable age as it seems. The age where we have so much to experience.

As for Shumway, a woman who has experienced 40 more years of life lessons, it is somewhat difficult to connect with the student body.

Diversity and inclusiveness are the words this generation is throwing around right now. However, I believe I must remind everyone to revisit the dictionary for the definitions of these two words. We all are differed. God did not make any of us alike. Even identical twins will be unique in some manner. Genetically they may be same but they may have different preferences. We all need to be included.