Sure, many college students are on Facebook, communicate via Skype, or spend a semester abroad, but new college grad Willadene Margaret Zedan did all these things at 85 years old! She received her Bachelor of Arts in Theology from Marian University in Wisconsin last week.
According to DJC Communications, Willadene graduated from Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan in 1945 where Henry Ford, the school’s namesake, would pay regular visits. At the time, World War II was raging and college was out of reach for most people.
More than 60 years after high school, and following the loss of her husband of almost 50 years, Willadene moved from rural Michigan to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin to live with a daughter and son-in-law. Once there, she decided she needed to keep her mind active, to engage in something she loved. “Too many of my friends were home watching the soaps and losing their minds; they were ‘spaced out’,” she said.
She started by auditing a course and moved on to matriculation. On May 18, Willadene graduated and said she now wants to look for a job. Always a religious woman, she wants to take her theology studies to a religious institution to care for the ill, needy, troubled, or imprisoned.
For Willadene, college has been a wonderful experience, not because of frat parties and football games, but due to her love of learning. In addition to her theology classes, she studied art, social work and sociology.
Feedback from her classmates was consistently positive, she reports. “Students were always nice to me. They’d say they wished their parents and grandparents had the energy I have.” She also has praise for her professors: “They were so helpful. If I wanted to talk to them, I could. They were fantastic. They always made the time.”
“It’s been truly delightful to have Willadene Zedan as a member of the Marian University community,” said Steven R. DiSalvo, Ph.D., president of the university. “She serves as a role model to our younger students, epitomizing the concept of a life-long learner.”
Before starting college, Willadene raised five children. Among the many jobs she held over her lifetime were cook at a Boy Scout Camp, manager of a golf course and owner of a gift shop. She now has 15 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.
“I want to die doing something constructive that’s helping someone else,” said Willadene who reports being in great physical shape. “So many people my age are afraid of death. But we are born to die. When I get to the other side, I want to be able to say I used the talents I was given.”