After four decades spent on a full career and raising a family, Alma Kocialek is now slated to graduate from Toronto’s York University with, fittingly, a degree in gender and women’s studies.
According to CTV News, Kocialek will be the school’s oldest graduate, who back in 1978 had started her post-secondary education to become a clinical psychologist, but only returning in 2011 after her husband died.
The octogenarian says her degree is proof learning is a life-long endeavour, and that more people need to “get up and to live.”
“I decided I’d just get up, get at it. Do something with my life,” Kocialek said, as quoted by The Star.
“All my friends had their doctorate or masters or whatever. And I said I want a degree. I want to accomplish something.”
After a rigorous course involving a lot of critical thinking and memory work, though, Kocialek now welcomes some down time during summer.
“We have to keep our brains straightened out,” she told CTV News Channel yesterday.
“My brain is well stressed.”
Among the topics Kocialek studied were “prostitution laws”, “missing and murdered Indigenous women” and “advancements in gender equality”.
But what really piqued the former businesswoman’s interest is how marginalised women find employment in Canada, an issue close Kocialek’s heart. Back in the 1970s, Kocialek founded a personnel company where she helped people find jobs, an “extremely rewarding” experience for her.
One of Kocialek’s professor, Jan Kainer said Kocialek, being of her particular seniority, gave her class a real-life, first-hand perspective on what it was really like to be a working woman in the 1970s.
“She talked a lot about how patronising and chauvinistic the attitudes of the day were,” Kainer said.
As she imparted her experience, Kocialek received something in return from her younger classmates as well: how to talk like a teenager.
“One friend of mine who lives near Ottawa told me, ‘You’re talking like a teenager.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m with them all the time.’”
“We’d sit and giggle and laugh,” she said. “It kept me young, too.”
Kocialek is set to graduate on June 21 in front of her daughter, Judy Brock, who said she’ll be so proud to watch her “effervescent” mother walk across the convocation stage.