Open Mic: The Graduate

May 24, 2016

Credit Holly Marcus, Special to the Staunton News Leader

It’s graduation season, and millions of young people are collecting diplomas – but they’re not alone.  More and more older Americans are wrapping up a college degree – among them Charlottesville – area author Faith Andrews Bedford.

When I was 14 my boyfriend asked me to marry him. I accepted but we decided maybe we shouldn’t announce it just yet.  Four years later, when we got engaged, we made a deal with our parents.  If they’d let us get married, we would finish college and not have kids until we did.

But sometimes babies happen when you are making other plans. We were married in '63. Our son, Drew, was born in '64.  I put Bob through grad school with a part time job as the secretary in the  microbiology department.  When Bob graduated it was my turn to finish college. 

But our daughter Eleanor was born and, a few years later, Sarah arrived.  I loved being a mom and raising the kids.  I planned to return to school when Sarah entered kindergarten.  But I was a La Leche League leader and had been helping out our pediatrician with his breastfeeding patients.

When we moved to Charlottesville, so Bob could become a professor at U.Va., I talked the head of the nursing department there  into hiring me as the hospital’s first lactation consultant. 

Nine years later, Bob accepted one of those jobs you just can’t refuse in New York City. I had 80 colleges to choose from. But instead, I began writing for magazines, became a columnist for Country Living and started research for a biography of Frank Benson, an American Impressionist painter. 

The year my first book was published we moved back to Charlottesville.  Sarah started U.Va and so did I. Slowly, the credits began accumulating:  Greek art, physics and ancient civilizations at U.Va.  Psychology, existential philosophy and history of the gilded age at Piedmont Community College. 

I juggled a couple of courses a year with my various writing assignments and had earned 60 credits when I heard about Mary Baldwin’s adult degree program. I signed up and began driving over the mountains to study things like botany in the field in the Shenandoah Valley, the History of Jamestown in the Tidewater and  Italian Renaissance in Rome where I discovered the subject of my senior thesis: The friendship of Michelangelo and Daniele da Volterra. 

I’ve loved the learning, the research, the writing.  Each class was like a fine chocolate. I'd nibble it for a whole semester and then move on to the next one. By last fall, the box was almost empty. 

My first grandchild is graduating from UCLA in June.  I thought I should keep the chronology correct and graduate before she did. So I put on a big push, took three courses this winter and, at age 71, graduated from Mary Baldwin College last week

Faith Andrews Bedford is a writer living in Ivy, Virginia.  Her book of essays is titled Barefoot Summers.

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