Doris Glass said she really didn’t see the big deal about her graduation from Coastal Carolina University on Tuesday, just weeks after her 89th birthday.
“All I did was get up and go to school and study, take the test, and hope to pass them,” Glass said. “There’s nothing special. I’m just an old lady that got through school.”
Glass walked across the stage at CCU on Tuesday, receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.
“It was really a weird feeling. It wasn’t that I couldn’t believe it, but all these people are applauding, and they got up on their feet,” Glass said. “It was like a movie scene, you could picture Audrey Hepburn in some of her movies, like that. I guess I waved at one point … I was totally speechless.”
She remains humble about her accomplishment.
“They weren’t applauding me, they were applauding the idea of an older woman working and getting her degree, that’s all it was,” she said.
Her first experience in college, she said, was a “total disaster.”
She said she managed to flunk every class she took, but that there was a reason.
“I had a funky appendix,” she said.
She had to take a few months off of classes to get back to health and before they would even operate to remove her appendix.
After the successful surgery, Glass went on to go to secretarial school in Boston and spent a good part of her life in sales as an insurance broker with Prudential.
She and her husband retired and moved to Murrells Inlet from the Boston area years ago.
“When you first retire, you have things to do. It was a big change, we had a lot of things to find out about here and to see,” Glass said. “We did our traveling abroad. After about ten years of that, you either run out of money or you’re tired of the whole thing.”
Her husband, to whom she was married to for 59 years, was legally blind for the last ten years of his life before he passed away in 2012, she said, and he had been taking courses online or “on tape” with the Hadley School for the Blind.
She saw his enjoyment and thought she would give a few college courses a try.
Thanks to South Carolina’s option of free tuition at a public state university to those over age 60 (who also meet other requirements), she was able to make it happen.
She had taken piano lessons for years, and decided to enroll in a piano course. She later gave foreign language a try.
“I always thought I wanted to speak German,” Glass said with a laugh. “It wasn’t too long before I found out I would never be able to speak German. The teacher was very kind and gave me a C.”
A former watercolorist, she also was interested in art, but back problems put that hobby on the back burner.
“You have to sit a certain way when you’re painting, and my back just wouldn’t bend that way. But that’s okay, because I had painted everything I really wanted to paint anyway,” Glass said.
At some point, CCU insisted she choose a major.
“I picked English because I love to read. I happen to be a Shakespeare lover from my high school days on,” Glass said.
After meeting a fellow classmate in her 50s in the program, Glass discovered the Interdisciplinary Studies major, which fit the bill for her.
“I told [my advisor] that ‘I’m going to do it my way. If I die without taking the courses I want, I will be very upset,’” Glass joked. “She said, ‘Do it your way!’ … and I took the things I wanted first.”
Unfortunately, she said, that advisor retired and she received a new one, who continued to help steer her in the right direction and tell her if she completed certain courses, she could eventually graduate.
“It wasn’t anything I purposely set out to do,” Glass said.
Her experience in the classroom among the usual 18 to 22-year-old crowd was a positive one for the most part.
The first English professor she had told her that having older people in the class was a good thing, and that it made the kids work harder.
“I thought ‘Well, I guess I will take the test and work just to see if I can keep up with the kids,” she said. “And I could, and I did.”
She praised “the boys” in her classes, saying that they were always very supportive and friendly.
“They treated me like one of their own,” Glass said. “They were perfect gentleman.”
She gave an example of a young man who approached her on campus while seeing her walking slowly with her heavier-than-usual bag, who asked if she needed some help.
Her fellow graduates during commencement had her back as well.
She used her cane just for safety that day, she said, and the Registrar’s Office employee would check in with her periodically to make sure she could do the next task in the ceremony.
“The young men sitting next to me turned to her and said, ‘We’ll take care of her,’” she said.
The girls in some of her classes, she found, were not quite as friendly.
“I think they thought ‘She wants to be like my [a] mother,’” she said.
One advantage of being the oldest in the class, was to continue doing it “her way.” If she didn’t like a particular professor, she could drop the class. If she wasn’t doing well and didn’t particularly need the class, she could drop it and move on to something else.
“We’re not all good at everything,” Glass said. “It has been very, very pleasant.”
Glass lost a son to cancer in 2016, and her daughter and son-in-law live in Maine and run a motel, while her grandson is in the Air Force and he drove up from Florida to see her graduate.
Her family probably takes the accomplishment with a grain of salt, she thought, saying they probably just think “Mum did that … there she goes again.”
Glass said that getting out and being involved is so important as a retiree living on her own.
“That’s very dangerous. You have to get out [and do things] … or you can become very withdrawn. I had to get out of the house,” she said, saying she doesn’t like online courses as much because she likes being in the classroom and being able to ask questions.
Glass enjoys writing, and said one professor even told her she should be published, so she decided recently to continue with her education and apply for graduate school there, with a focus in creative writing.
“I’m hoping to get in there, that will keep me busy. It will be fun and interesting,” Glass said.