College opens doors for many

  • By Linda Bryant Smith Herald Columnist
  • Monday, September 17, 2007 4:59pm
  • Life

Last fall, Sandra Coward, 66, and her grandson Shane, both high school dropouts, were on the Everett Community College campus with a common goal.

“I didn’t want a GED; I wanted a high school diploma,” she said. “I wanted classes in which I would actually learn something. I wanted that same opportunity for Shane. So we went back to school together.”

At the same time, Elaine Soriano was among a friendly group of seniors working out in an over-55 aerobics class. Soriano has been a regular in the twice-weekly program for more than a decade after experiencing a cardiac arrest.

Bill Morgan, a retired Everett High physics teacher, works in the tutoring center. Many of his students are older, out of school for many years, and they need a little extra help getting back into the routine of study, he explained.

“If you want to feel young again, get out and take a course at college,” Morgan said. His return to the classroom as a student also held a surprise or two.

While auditing a calculus class at the college, he realized he had not used a calculator to create graphs when he first took the subject in 1958. A 17-year-old Running Start student explained the process. In return, he taught her a lot about calculus as the quarter progressed.

Along with the young, fresh faces of Running Start students and recent high school graduates, you will also see mature students such as Morgan, Soriano and Coward in EvCC classrooms and gyms. Many are pursuing a specific academic goal. Others are there to explore new ideas and subjects that will enrich their lives.

Coward said she received the best of both. A widow with eight children and a slew of grandkids and great-grandkids, she’d thought about going back to school for decades, but the time never seemed right.

“I left school in my junior year. … I thought I was so smart. I’d just get married and have kids,” she said. Divorced with three children, she worked for years at Scott Paper. Her second husband brought five children to their marriage and the decision was that they could get by if she stayed home and took care of the family.

His death 43 years later gave Coward time to think about her future. And she wanted it to include that diploma. She also wanted her grandson to finish his education. So they started together. He’ll finish this fall and continue college studies.

Over a period of four quarters, Coward earned her diploma, and along the way gained a strong interest in U.S. history, oceanography, earth sciences and math. She was among 26 graduates in the spring class of 2007 and was honored for her work in this high school completion program.

“Going to school is kind of addictive,” she told me. “Once you start learning, you want to keep learning and never stop, no matter where you are in your life.”

“Addictive” is a word I heard often from older students as I worked on these columns, but not always for the same reason.

Soriano and her colleagues in the exercise class feel that way about their program. It’s making them healthier and has been the source of many new friendships.

It’s also an informal support group. When someone loses a spouse or is coping with a serious illness in the family, this group of men and women rally round, Soriano said. “So often, we walk out of the gym laughing and say, “Aren’t we lucky to have each other?”

While tuition and fees don’t come cheap, scholarships are available for older students. Those 60 and over who chose to audit classes receive a 75 percent reduction in tuition costs if there is space available in the class for this purpose.

There’s free stuff, too. Every winter, Student Activities hosts a free artist lecture series, and invitations are mailed to all the area senior centers. The college also has a poetry and writing series, humanities lectures and the Northlight Gallery, which offers free art shows. (Check out for event listings).

One way to become familiar with the campus is to volunteer at the EvCC Literacy Center to help other adults improve their reading, writing and English-speaking skills.

The college’s fall class schedule was mailed to 240,000 households in the region, so there’s a good chance you received one. If not, you can visit the campus and pick one up or see if any are still available at your local library.

The best lesson Sandra Coward acquired when she went back to school at 66 was advice we should all take to heart. “When you expand your knowledge, you never know what window or door that will open to something else.”

We all need those “doors” in our lives, just to keep things interesting. Lifelong learning gives us the key.

Linda Bryant Smith writes about life as a senior citizen and the issues that concern, annoy and often irritate the heck out of her now that she lives in a world where nothing is ever truly fixed but her income. You can e-mail her at

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