Why did you decide to earn a degree at Harvard Extension?
My entry and advancement at the Extension School was a totally surprising and unlikely event for me which ended up taking me down a long road to a wonderful outcome. In my early career in Washington, DC in the 1960’s I had always wished that I had gone into the Foreign Service or international work. Another path emerged for me, however, in commercial real estate and travel as a career.
But in 2016, living in Cambridge, I noticed a course on the Constitutional Convention at HES. My direct ancestor, James McHenry, had signed the Constitution, so I thought I’d try to learn more about the process. Given the choice of credit or noncredit, I chose credit; most of my peers at my age take lifelong learning courses but I’ve always liked having a bottom line, so I undertook HES courses to pursue a degree.
Once into it, I enjoyed it more and more, and even after having not taken tests or written papers for decades, I dug into the classes and work. I loved being with younger people who were moving to new careers. As part of my job in the travel business, I had traveled to the Middle East, Iran, and many other destinations, so I pursued most of my courses in HES in global and international issues. I ended up circling back to American government and writing my thesis on a subject related to my early ancestor.
How has/will this experience help you in your career or personal development?
Since I am at an age (81) when I am not moving into a new career, my experience in HES took me on a different and exciting path which will keep me busy for a number of years to go.
I have never considered myself an academic, as my life has been in business, sales, and nonprofit development—a lot of outreach rather than sitting in a cubicle doing research. But working on the thesis taught me new research skills and I truly enjoyed it, particularly meeting people in the field I was working on. One of those was a curator at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, who suggested that I apply for a Library Fellowship there. I was awarded a Fellowship in February, and in the fall of 2021 will spend a month in residence at Mount Vernon working on a more in-depth subject related to George Washington….a subject that may occupy me for the future.
I have also gained more respect for scholarly work, reading, and studying subjects not normally of interest, which, along with the professors I worked with, will surely occupy my retirement years. Never have been an academic, I am very happy to have two advanced degrees, especially one from Harvard! So in general, my experience at HES and my ALM has led to much more than I could have expected.
How did you manage to balance your studies with work and family responsibilities?
Since I took one course at a time, it wasn’t hard to do the work for each class. I only had a husband to deal with at home! A major contributing factor to my HES experience was that I was working in the international travel business and made many trips to different parts of the world during my four years at HES. Trips to Iran, Turkey, the ‘Stans, Vietnam, South Africa, etc. only enhanced my experience at HES by providing views of the political and governmental world, world leaders and parties, and the local cultures. The travel provided insights into my courses on leadership, political corruption, and globalization.
Do you have any advice for new students?
Never give up or think you can’t do something. If you want to tackle serious coursework, or a career change, at any stage of your life, just do it! I’ve been told by young women that I’m an inspiration. This May, my great-niece and goddaughter, who is graduating from high school, and I will share a graduation party. She is 63 years younger than me.
Describe your Extension School experience in one word.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.