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Older grads: Never too late to earn a degree


Beech Grove resident Paul Severance, 75, chats with classmates Saturday while awaiting the start of Commencement 2015.

If you were watching closely during Saturday’s Commencement exercises, you probably saw some diplomas going to folks who looked a few years older than the typical undergrad.

“My beloved Mom hoped that I would graduate earlier,” says Paul Severance of Beech Grove, who earned his Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree this year at the seasoned age of 75.

Originally from Watertown, N.Y., Severance was inspired by the activism of the 1960s and embarked on a life as a community organizer and issues advocate. He came to Indianapolis in 1976 to work for the Near Eastside Community Organization. A couple years later, he led the formation of United Senior Action, a statewide network for older adults to advocate on public policy issues. He served 27 years as its executive director.

Upon his retirement a decade ago, Severance started looking for what to do next and decided to take some electives in UIndy’s School for Adult Learning, or SAL. Though he attended college in younger days, he had never earned a diploma, unlike many peers he worked with over the years.

“Someone would ask me, ‘Where is your degree from?’” he recalls. “It was always kind of embarrassing to me.”

Taking one course per semester for 10 years, Severance gradually gathered the credits he needed to get that piece of paper. In fact, he did well enough to graduate summa cum laude, posting a 4.0 GPA and claiming SAL’s Student of the Year Award. He also was inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, the academic honor society for adult learners.

Severance downplays the achievement.

“I met a young woman (classmate) who has four children and a full-time job,” he says. “So it really isn’t fair.”

His own family includes Robin, his wife of nearly 14 years, two children, two grandchildren and a new great-grandchild, but he’s not sitting around playing the standard granddad role. He is a member of the national Conscious Elders Network activist group and co-chair for the development of Elders Climate Action, a new nationwide organization for older adults focusing on climate change and environmental issues.

“I’m coming from a place of deep, deep concern about the world our children and grandchildren are going to inherit from us, unless we take action in a hurry,” he says.

He also plans to keep taking classes.

“I can’t say how grateful I am to UIndy and to SAL,” he says. “My life the last 10 years has been immensely enriched.”

Also graduating Saturday with a bachelor’s degree from SAL was 62-year-old IMPD detective Cheryl Anderson, who was profiled Tuesday on WISH-TV. Watch her story here.

Learn more about UIndy’s School for Adult Learning here.