Dec. 17, 2018
Janet Fein, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at the age of 84, refused to let anything keep her from pursuing her longtime dream at UT Dallas. If you don’t see the video, watch it on Vimeo.
When Janet Fein could no longer drive herself to school, she got rides from DART.
When she could no longer use a walker to get to class, she switched to a wheelchair.
And when her health declined and she had to move to an assisted living center, Fein took independent study classes from home.
The 84-year-old refused to let anything keep her from earning her degree from The University of Texas at Dallas. On Wednesday, she will receive a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences thanks to hard work and heroic levels of perseverance.
Fein will be the oldest of nearly 2,800 students participating in the University’s fall commencement ceremonies.
“You’re never too old to keep on learning,” the grandmother of eight said. “That’s very important to me, and that’s what this school has done for me.”
Graduating from college has been a longtime dream for Fein. She married and raised five children after graduating from high school in 1951. Her late husband, Howard, was in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Afterward, the family moved several times for his job. Fein enrolled in a few community college courses in the ‘70s and finished her associate’s degree in arts and sciences from Richland College in 1995.
“You’re never too old to keep on learning. That’s very important to me, and that’s what this school has done for me.”
In 2012, Fein transferred to UT Dallas after receiving a scholarship. She also was granted a state tuition waiver that allows individuals 65 and older to take up to six hours each semester with no tuition costs if they maintain a minimum GPA.
The new student was 78 and had just retired from her job as a secretary at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
“I didn’t know if I could do it,” Fein said. “The standards at UTD are high. I didn’t know if I could meet them or not, but I found that I could.”
Fein took classes in religion, immigration and political science, to name a few. She maintained a 3.2 GPA despite juggling school with doctor’s appointments and a hospitalization. She said her professors have been understanding and the Office of Student AccessAbility provided accommodations, even moving classes to more accessible locations when necessary.
Through it all, Fein said she always felt welcome on campus. One of her professors and her classmates even threw her a birthday party last year.
“I was accepted, and the younger people were very friendly to me,” she said. “They never felt that I was too old.”
Sixty-seven years after earning her high school diploma, Janet Fein is ready to be honored for her academic achievements at UT Dallas.
The University has a history of attracting older students, said Dr. Richard Scotch, program head of sociology and professor of sociology, public policy and political economy who taught Fein’s independent study courses during the fall.
“I think that kind of diversity makes a much richer institution for our students, who have the chance to interact with people who are at different stages of their lives and who have different interests,” he said.
“It makes for a better curriculum and for better classes because of what students bring to those classes.”
Dr. Bobby Alexander, associate professor of sociology, said Fein brought a wealth of life experience to the discussions in his Religion in Society class.
“Janet soaked up our class materials and lessons and shared her knowledge and wisdom with students in the class,” Alexander said. “She helped students see the importance of knowledge of history and lessons learned from it. She also showed them how to stick to the task of study.”
Fein’s health problems, which required her to use oxygen therapy, came close to forcing her to stop just a couple of semesters short of a degree.
“I couldn’t drive anymore, and I couldn’t go to school and thought I’d have to give it up,” she said. She didn’t take classes one semester but became unhappy.
“I felt I was missing something when I had to drop out. In the back of my mind, I said to myself, ‘I have to find a way to get back in school,’” she said.
Fein learned that she could get rides from her assisted living center to campus through a DART service for people with disabilities. Wearing oxygen tubes and a portable oxygen system, she used a walker to get to her classroom until she needed a wheelchair.
“Even with obstacles and setbacks, she kept going,” said Sheila Rollerson, her advisor. “I told her all the time she’s my hero because she would not give up.”
Fein will have plenty of fans cheering for her at commencement.
“I’m so impressed with her hard work and determination,” said Meryl Fein, her daughter-in-law. “She has made it happen any way she can.”
Now that Fein has turned in her last paper and submitted her last exam, the soon-to-be graduate has mixed feelings about what happens after she puts on the cap and gown.
“I feel like it’s a load off my mind,” Fein said during a recent campus visit. “But now it’s ‘What do I do next?’ because I’m going to miss this.”