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After 31 years away, it was time to come home. I had taken an early retirement after working for a Baltimore company for twenty years. My husband and I had moved to Virginia Beach, expecting to savor a lazy retirement there. But boredom and realizing that our “community” was mainly tourists and transients led us back to my hometown, a place we already knew was a real community.

After settling in to our new home in Hamburg, I was ready to go back to work. I was 56 years old, and had come from an extended line of women who lived long lives. I figured I had a good twenty years or so to actively contribute toward something meaningful.

My first plan did not work out as I had hoped. I had been licensed as a psychologist in Maryland and expected to have no trouble obtaining a similar license in New York State.

Unfortunately, my Maryland license was not transferable to New York State, and the licensing board here told me I would need to complete another doctorate if I wanted to practice.

So I viewed my choice as either pursuing another doctorate or choosing another career.

By the time one reaches one’s 50s, it is clear that life is unpredictable and time becomes more precious.

I felt that practically speaking, I didn’t have the time or patience for another doctorate, nor did I have a desire to invest our financial resources in one. I decided to begin researching another career.

I’ve always enjoyed exploring new fields of knowledge and challenging myself to learn brand-new things.

Often I hit dead ends either from a lack of interest or ability, which, to me, is only a sign that it’s time to look for something new.

I’m aware too that age-related cognitive decline is inevitable but can be slowed by making new neuronal connections in one’s brain. Working out at the gym helps keep my bones and muscles at least relatively healthy and strong, so I figure why not do the same for my brain?

The end of my story is still not written, but as I sit here at the keyboard I am officially a second semester student studying health information technology at Trocaire College.

I am challenged and I am learning – in ways I never expected. I am old enough to be the mother of some of my teachers, and even the grandmother of some of my fellow students.

My courses are challenging and interesting and fun. My classmates are friendly and helpful and treat me as an equal. I sometimes feel awkward about my age, but I try to follow a few simple rules – treat everyone with respect, help out where I can, work hard and try to learn something from everyone I meet.

My eight-year-old granddaughter Miranda thought my going back to school was a bad idea. “Grandma Coleen,” she said, “you need to stay home with your Mommy and Daddy and watch TV instead of going to school.” After reminding her that my parents had passed on, I told her that going to school was about the most fun activity I could think of right now, and that I hoped she would take after me and always want to learn new things.

I’m hoping to see Miranda in the audience when I step up to accept my next diploma.

Coleen Hanna, who lives in Hamburg, is enjoying her return to her hometown as well as her return as a college student.