You’re never too old to learn something new. And not just a new keyboard shortcut or a new Excel formula, I mean something really new, something big, something that could change how you see and understand the world and lead you down a totally new path.
You might have dozens of excuses on the tip of your tongue just reading that. But before you unleash them, see if you can concede this: If Guadalupe Palacios can learn to read and write, finish primary and middle school, and enroll in high school—all as a nonagenarian—then you can branch out and explore new interests, even long after you thought you were done with school forever. Agreed?
Palacios grew up poor, farming corn and beans with her family in an indigenous village in Mexico, according to a story published in the AFP. She never had a chance to go to school as a child, and was soon grown up—selling chickens, getting married (twice), and raising six children of her own.
No one would’ve blamed her if she’d lamented the schooling she’d missed out on decades ago and considered it a long-lost opportunity. But that’s not Palacios’ style, it seems. She enrolled in a literacy program at age 92—“now I can write letters to my boyfriends,” she joked—and then a primary school program for adult learners. Within a few years she’d made her way through middle school too and was ready for the next step.
“I feel ready to give it my all. Today is a marvelous day,” the 96 year old told the AFP on her first day at a public high school in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of the state of Chiapas.
Having exhausted the adult programs available to her, she decided continuing her education was important enough that she’d be willing to enroll alongside teenaged classmates, who call her “Dona Lupita.” She hopes to graduate before her age reaches the triple digits and has her eye on a job as a kindergarten teacher.
Palacios isn’t the only example of a student who proves you’re never too old to learn. In one article, the BBC featured some of the oldest university students in the UK, including 79-year-old Maureen Matthews and 84-year-old Craigan Surujballi, both of whom were embarking on law degrees alongside young undergraduates at the University of West London in Brentford.
At 89, Vinnie Dean Walker became the oldest student ever to graduate from Sinclair Community College, according to the Dayton Daily News, taking home a degree in sociology. Leo Plass set a world record in 2011 when he finally finished his coursework and graduated from Eastern Oregon University at age 99.
So what was that again about it being too late? That’s what I thought.
There are plenty of reasons you might not be able to drop everything and dive back into school—especially if it’s an expensive and time-consuming degree you’re after. But next time you rationalize staying in a job you hate or a career path that doesn’t feel right simply because you feel too old to make a change and try something new, think of these students who were determined to learn late in life. And see if you can be inspired to take a risk and do the same—whether that means signing up for a formal degree program or taking a weekend workshop.
Patrice Murdoch, a younger classmate of Matthews and Surujballi, told the BBC she admires them. “It shows you can start education at any age and you can always go back. It's crazy how much they know.”
Photo of classroom with desks and chairs courtesy of Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images.
A longtime word nerd and bookworm, Stav studied history and dance at Stanford and later journalism at Columbia. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, where she wrote about everything from Nazi hunters to Chinese adoptees to Good Girls Revolt, the real story and fictionalized TV show about a 1970 gender discrimination case at the magazine. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly.More from this Author