At fifty, I have just finished my first year of a five-year Ph.D. Program in Math Education at Stanford University’s School of Education. I had always wanted to get a Ph.D., but coming from a family where neither of my parents, nor any of my siblings completed college created an intricate web of challenges. I was a single parent dancing on the edge of poverty for over a decade, but when my daughter turned twenty-two, I found myself with slightly more resources–and freedom. My dream of attending a Ph.D. program was kept alive for decades, but at forty-nine, battling cognitive dysfunction following a craniotomy, my dream was on life support. Long story, short: I made it to graduate school–with full funding, and I have thrived here; living my dream. At fifty-years old, surrounded by students half my age, with twice the socioeconomic advantage, I completed my first year of a doctoral program at Stanford with a 3.9 GPA.
The younger students in the program were more prepared, having just completed Masters degrees at Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, etc., but none was as appreciative and enthusiastic as this fifty-year old finally getting her chance to live her dream. I was the student arriving early for class, sitting in the front seat, eyes wide open, hand raised frequently. My existence hinged on every word that the professor uttered, and I gleefully studied seven days a week to complete assignments and explore research ideas. I attended every guest lecture and excitedly rushed home to write papers and read new articles. While many students were complaining about the workload and how the program did not exactly meet their needs, I walked around saying, “I feel like I am on an all-expense paid vacation.” My advice to people in their fifties is, “Keep your dream alive.” The longer you cherish your aspirations, the sweeter it will be when you attain them. The next four years at Stanford will most likely be my best thus far.