Going back to school is something that many Baby Boomers dream about. Suzie Gurwin has learned how to make it work as she pursues a college degree in graphic design, continuing her lifelong dream of being an artist.
Suzie, born in Warren, Ohio, attended Ohio State University to earn an undergraduate degree in sociology, then had to decide what to do next. “I had always been an artist, but didn’t consider that as a viable career option.” She then went on to attend OSU Law School, where she met her husband David.
Suzie worked as a lawyer for 12 years, particularly enjoying the research and writing tasks of the profession, but continued to take art classes in the evenings to satisfy her interest in art.
When she returned to college to begin work on her second degree at the age of 40, “I stuck out like a sore thumb in my classes,” she admits. She received some confirmation of that early on when her professor came up to her during a break in her first class and asked, “What’s a mature, married lady doing here?”
The other students -- some of whom had mothers her age -- were friendly and remarkably serious about their education. Their class will graduate this spring from the program. “The students never made me feel uncomfortable,” Suzie says, but she had already decided that hanging out with the youngsters was not in her plans.
One spring day, a group of female students in a car stopped to ask her if she wanted to go out for coffee with them. “I knew that would have changed the whole tenor of their afternoon, so I said no,” but she was grateful for the offer.
She only heard once from a student who thought that a mother of two who was returning to school part time had all the time in the world to do her classwork, while the younger students had other classes to worry about. Suzie refrained from ever saying “just you wait till you have a family etc.,” a tough thing for us Boomers to do.
As a mature student, Suzie found that she was much more efficient with her work than she had been the first time around, what with chauffeuring kids, laundry, cleaning and all the other activities of a family to deal with too. “But sometimes I longed for the luxury of a dorm room.”
For class group projects students either didn’t want “the old lady” in their group, she says, or they sought her out, knowing she would be an organized, efficient member of the group to move the project to completion.
Suzie has been happy with her decision to return to school, only slightly concerned with the economy that may make getting a job following graduation a little difficult. But she is anxious to get back into the workaday world, looking forward to the feelings of accomplishment that will give her.
She is also happy that she has been able to pursue more than one career, something that many Boomers will be doing as they continue working long past the "normal" retirement age.
"I liked being a lawyer," she says, "but I always wanted to do this. I feel very lucky that I have been able to do both."
By Teresa K. Flatley