laurel dale crosses the stage with her grandson to get her diploma

Education Has No Age Limit

Before a packed crowd in the Southwell Complex at Columbia College's May commencement in 2015, Laurel Dale crossed the stage to accept her bachelor's degree. The 77-year-old graduate of the Moberly campus was assisted by her grandson Taylor, who traveled from Jacksonville, Florida for the occasion. As President Dalrymple handed her the diploma, a smile of pride crossed Dale's face. 

"Walking up to receive the diploma — that was truly special. I kept wondering if this was really happening," Dale said. 

believer in education

Dale completed her degree entirely online, but when she started in 2009, she didn't yet know how to use a computer. In fact, she didn't even own a computer. But growing up as one of 11 children on a rural Missouri farm in the wake of the Great Depression, Dale learned early about overcoming obstacles, and the value of an education

"She was such a strong believer in education," Dale said of her own mother, who wished to see all 11 children receive a college education. "Because that's what will bring you out of poverty — if you work hard, getting your schooling will help you all of your life."

After graduating high school in 1955, Dale attended one year of college at the University of Missouri. In 1958, she married her high school sweetheart, Jim Dale, and they started their lives together, which included raising three children. 

Intense desire to return

Through the years, the couple enjoyed life. Dale worked at Buchroeders Jewelers and Boone County National Bank in Columbia. The children grew and gave the couple seven grandchildren. Then Jim died in 1997. Living in Macon, a half-hour drive from Moberly, Laurel finally heeded a call in 2009. 

I just had an intense desire to return [to school]. I felt it so badly in my heart. Columbia College is a highly thought of school. Then I found out they had online classes.

The Moberly staff immediately got to work helping Dale acquire the computer skills she needed to succeed in online coursework. Her first step was to take an introduction to computers course — a course she took online. 

That course laid the foundation for her to complete the remainder of her online coursework. She said taking online courses was ideal because it allowed her to work at her own pace and get a little help from family. 

"I remember typing a four-page paper for one of my classes, and it all wiped out [on the screen]," Dale said. "I cried and then my grandson Stevie said, 'Grandma, you see this button at the top that looks like a fishhook?' He pushed that button and it all came back."

Dale's grandsons weren't alone in helping her along the way. Dale credits positive reinforcement from her online instructors, support from the college's technology services department and guidance from the Moberly staff in helping her stay on track. 

never give it up

The concept of online education has opened a new world for Dale, and with her degree in hand, she has big plans for the future. She believes that keeping the brain active is key to combating memory loss and dementia as we age. She hopes to set up a program for senior citizens to help them learn how to use computers and access online "brain games" like those offered by the popular Lumosity website. She is even interested in completing a research study on the subject. 

From the Depression-era farm girl who could not have imagined the computer age, to the grandmother who completed her college education through the power of the internet, Dale is a reminder to students across the generations of what can be achieved through adaptability and perseverance. 

Her advice to students, "The same advice as my mother had: Education is gold in the brain. The most important decision in your life is to go forth [with school], and you'll be rewarded, you'll enjoy it, you'll be hungry for it, you'll want to do more, you'll never give it up once you start." 

This article was written by Jennifer Truesdale, and originally appeared on CC Connected.

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