Sometimes life throws us curve balls and makes going back to school a tough proposition. That curve ball for Margaret Dunning was The Great Depression. Oh, sure — bring out the one reason that trumps all others. I once took a semester off because I was really low on cash and undecided on what major to pursue. My parental figures were of course, nonplussed. Age and logistics aside, had I dropped out because of something like The Great Depression I might have been cut a little slack.
In all seriousness, when reading about a spry 102-year-old receiving a full-ride scholarship to a top state institution after dropping out 80 years prior because her family needed her help, it gives us all reason to pause and think what it means to truly be a lifelong learner. In reality, most people are lifelong learners, but let’s face it–sometimes more important priorities get in the way.
As I look back and compare the reasons that briefly distracted me from college and I compare them to America’s Greatest Generation, I realize even more today that higher education for anyone is truly a privilege. We sometimes take that for granted. At least I did. I think about my Grandfather from a small Midwestern town who signed up as a teen with the Scouts and Raiders (which later became the Navy Seals) to blaze the Burma Pass and fight in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. College wasn’t even a consideration. The fate of the world was at stake! I think about my other Grandfather whose dream it was to be a history professor, but didn’t have the means to enroll because it would mean losing the family farm. I think about a grandmother who wanted to go to college, but couldn’t because in her family only the sons went, not the daughters and money was scarce. That was the norm at that time.
What’s remarkable about their stories is they were smart and they went on to live fruitful lives and one–the history buff–was such a voracious reader that today I can still go into the local library and each book they had on hand during his lifetime shows his signature on the checkout card. He read every book in the library, sometimes two and three times over. How many graduates can say that? Growing up, his children and grandchildren had front-row seats to one of the most educated, “uneducated” historians from whom you’d ever want to learn. Today I ask, what would have been different had the Internet and online learning been available years ago?
Look, every person has their own reason for not fulfilling an educational goal and every reason matters. Some encounter The Great Depression, while others have a family to raise, military deployments to support, demanding careers and financial hurdles. The point is that if you really want it to happen, then in today’s society, the drawbridge to accessing quality education has been lowered just a little bit more through online education and better financial aid. And if you’re also a lifelong learner who happens to want that degree, there’s always hope.
If Margaret Dunning at 102 years-old can do it, just maybe, you can too?
By J. Thompson
Online Learning Tips Staff