Betty Sandison: No Age Limit to Learning

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to earn my bachelor’s degree. My journey to achieve that goal started in the fall of 1955, when I enrolled as a freshman at the University of Minnesota. I had saved $600 from my job as a waitress serving hamburgers and floats, and that amount covered my first year of college. 

I loved college, the University, and the one-year nursing program I was pursuing. After finishing the program, and working one year as an licensed practical nurse, I thought I would go back to school and become a teacher. Before that happened, however, I met my soon-to-be husband. Like many others at the time, we were quickly married and started a family. I put my dream of getting my degree on hold while my husband finished his education. I became a busy mom to my two daughters. 

Life swept me up. My degree faded away in the rearview mirror as new milestones unfolded. My girls grew up, I went through a divorce, and I started a new chapter as an independent woman working full-time as a nurse. Through it all I thought about my bachelor’s degree. 

Fast forward 50 years. As I entered retirement, the goal of getting my degree revisited me. I asked myself, ‘Why not now?’ I worried about what others might say about my decision. I worried that I could fail. Yet I decided to take that chance. 

More than 60 years after I first set foot on the University campus, I returned to pick up where I left off. In the fall of 2018, at the age of 80, I enrolled in the Multidisciplinary Studies bachelor’s degree program through the College of Continuing and Professional Studies. I discovered that many of the credits I had originally earned transferred into this degree. With the help of my advisor, I am planning what classes to take. I am taking one class per semester. My plan is to graduate by the time I turn 85. I have twelve credits to go. 

It is incredible to me that I am doing this. I am a very curious person, and I have pursued education in a variety of ways over my life — traveling to Italy, England, New Zealand visiting 47 of the 50 states; attending a community college to obtain my Associate Degree in nursing; keeping up with my nursing education while I was working; and visiting major league baseball stadiums around the U.S. for fun. But in terms of education, there is nothing like being on campus and attending courses with other college students and professors. 

My journey has not been without hesitation, doubt, fear, and occasional stress. Others my age asked why I was doing it. ‘What was the point?,’ they asked. I think people, especially those in my generation, and many women in particular, are hesitant to embrace the unfamiliar. It is easy for people to get stuck, thinking it is too late for them to pursue their dreams. My response is: there is no age limit on education. 

This spring semester gave me another challenge. With COVID-19, my biology course was transferred to online-only instruction, which was a difficult adjustment for me. Working full-time on the computer has been the biggest issue I have dealt with in returning to college — and now to navigate an online classroom! 

My experience does not look much like 1955, with Zoom meetings, video lectures, and online tests and labs. I have missed being in the classroom and walking around the campus. With help from my children, grandchildren, and fellow students, I managed to adjust. 

Overall, the pandemic has been very scary and disruptive. If there is one thing we can do in this unprecedented time, however, it is to embrace the quiet moments we have and ask ourselves what we really want to do, to learn, and to become. 

Betty Sandison (she/her) is a Minnesota native earning her bachelor’s degree in Multidisciplinary Studies from the College of Continuing & Professional Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is passionate about baseball, the Minnesota State Fair, and lifelong learning.