On Campus

Great-grandmother, 76, graduates high school

'I must be a late bloomer'

A great-grandmother who has waited 56 years to get her high school diploma can finally cross that dream off her bucket list.

Maureen Baker has attended several high school reunions with her classmates from the 1950s but felt like an outsider because she never finished school.

On Wednesday, the 76-year-old Agassiz, B.C., resident will finally walk across a stage with two other seniors who enrolled at the same alternate school as part of a pilot project for seniors, alongside a group of at-risk teens.

“I’m thinking I must be a late bloomer,” Baker said before the grad ceremony. “It’s taken me 56 years to do it.”

Baker quit school in 1956, when she was in Grade 11, to work as a phone operator for BC Tel, which was later bought by Telus (TSX:T).

But going back to class at the Agassiz Centre for Education after more than five decades wasn’t all peachy for Baker, whose biggest challenge was “the dreaded math.”

Her husband, Leonard Baker, tried to encourage her — in his own unique way.

“When he saw me struggling with trigonometry and algebra he said, ‘ Moe, why are you doing this?’ And I said, ‘Because I can.'”

Baker got her kicks in English class though, because of her lifelong love of reading. And the other two grannies in the class inspired her to keep chugging along because they had a bit more patience under their belts — at ages 80 and 89.

“They called me the youngster, and I was the oldest of six children so I loved it,” said Baker, who also credits her Irish roots for her stubborn will to make her dream come true.

Being called Grandma by the 20 teens at the alternate school was all the motivation Baker needed to keep her eye on the prize.

Baker, whose blended family includes eight children, 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, got extra inspiration from her 17-year-old granddaughter, who graduated from the same alternate school last year.

“She said, ‘Grandma, if I can do it, you can do it.”

Another of Baker’s granddaughters graduated high school in Qualicum Beach, on Vancouver Island, last week.

Sandy Balascak, administrator of the Agassiz Centre for Education, said the local school board started the pilot project, which has been a huge success.

“It makes them feel good to have youth recognize them as valuable,” she said. “I think a lot of youth put seniors off to the side a little bit and my kids just embraced them.

“I’ve got these youth that society gave up on and these seniors who are giving each other high fives and teasing each other. It’s just a joy to watch.”

Balascak said the elderly students weren’t interested in special treatment.

“If I had offered them honorary diplomas they wouldn’t have taken them. They wanted to earn everything and get that sense of accomplishment.”

As for Baker, she has just one message for anyone who regrets not graduating high school: “Go for it. Because life is short.”

—Camille Bains

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.