Larry McGarity describes himself as a self-proclaimed bookworm, Democrat, tree-hugger and jazz lover.
These things seem like the characteristics of your typical undergraduate, but the fact that he’s 61-years-old and graduating Summa Cum Laude and with honors makes McGarity as different as can be.
McGarity set a goal four years ago when he came back to school.
“I decided if I was going to do it I was going to have to do it seriously,” he says. “And I had to set a goal for myself to graduate Summa Cum Laude.”
He will graduate with a composite GPA of 3.973 if he receives the A’s he expects from his final classes — which is better than his first time around.
When McGarity first graduated from high school, he didn’t have the passion or the yearning to go to college. Instead he joined the army, where he worked as a microwave radio repairman, a job inspired by his child-hood fascination with the makings of radios.
After serving in the military for three years, he decided to go to school in northern California on the GI Bill of Rights and graduated from Santa Rosa Junior College in 1972.
When McGarity graduated with a degree in electronics almost 40 years ago, he didn’t take it seriously.
“I’m not a dummy,” he says. “But I never applied myself when I was young,”.
With a degree in hand, McGarity became a field service engineer for a company based out of California. For more than 17 years he traveled the world and lived in different countries including Italy, Iran, South Korea, Germany, and Japan.
It was in Japan where he met and wed his wife, Betty, in 1987.
Chuckling when asked about the wedding, he says that there were no “I do’s.” Instead, he and his wife completed a long chain of paper work through the U.S. Embassy and the Japanese government. When McGarity presented his passport to the embassy he asked when there was a ceremony and “I do’s” and the man responded, “You already did.”
When he and his wife moved to California in the late 1980s, McGarity continued to work with Agilent Technologies.
In 2002 McGarity transferred to Loveland to pursue a different job with the same company, but a week after the move, the job required moving back to California.
McGarity decided against the move, taking a local position. But in 2006 the company moved completely out of Colorado and into Malaysia.
After a few weeks of housework and sitting around, McGarity’s wife thought he should go back to school. That’s when he qualified for Trade Adjustment Assistance, a government program that retrains and educates people who lost their jobs outsourcing.
After he was accepted by the School of Business, he became involved with Off-Campus Student Services-Resources for Adult Learners.
Stepping Stones for all
Even though Jan Rastall is a non-traditional student, she holds a different position in the OCSS-RAL office: she is the assistant director of Adult Learner Programs.
Rastall describes OCSS-RAL as a place where any “non-trad” student can come for resources or just a place to hang out.
To meet the university’s non-traditional students guidelines, you need to be 23 or older and pursuing a degree, but Rastall doesn’t like to think of non-traditional students only as an age but instead as someone who doesn’t fix the fresh-out-of-high-school student profile.
If you’re young, old, supporting yourself, supporting a family or a military veteran, she says, “Everyone is welcome here, we don’t turn anyone away.”
That’s one of the ways she came into contact with McGarity. After sending out a campus-wide e-mail about the spring recognition ceremony, he came to OCSS-RAL in spring of 2008 and has been using the resource ever since.
“It’s really rewarding to see that progression from when they begin to ‘graduate from our office.’ We’re kind of a stepping stone when they first get started, and some of them continue to use our office through the entire time they’re here,” she says. “But some of them begin to get integrated in their department, and I think that’s awesome.”
Though McGarity received money after being laid off, and was able to come back to school, Rastall has seen a decrease in the number of non-traditional students. She said schools like University of Phoeninx and Regis University, both of which exist in Fort Collins, have pulled away adult learners from CSU.
“They both make it very user friendly for non-traditional students,” she said.
She believes it’s because weekend and evening classes are easier for adult students to attend.
“I hope that we continue to work towards supporting our adult students, we’re going to become more and more user friendly,” she said. “I would really like us to offer more evening classes, some weekend courses, more accessible daycare, and more financial resources.”
While the OCSS-RAL has seen a decrease in non-traditional students, they expect to see an increase in the number of attending war veterans due to the closing of the war and aren’t quite sure what the recession will do to the number of non-traditional students.
Rastall says she understands the pressure of going to work and school and says that juggling the time between the two is the hardest part. Because, at age 52, she works a full-time job and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, it’s hard for her to dedicate the amount of time she wants to certain projects.
“I can’t not work today,” she says. “I have to prioritize and settle for less, maybe less than I’d like.”
She envy’s the ability to pull all-nighters and to bounce back as fast as the younger students do and understand the fears that older, non-traditional students have when entering school again.
“They feel like they’re not good enough, they’re not smart enough, they’re rusty, they haven’t been in an educational environment in a while. They always have self doubt and anxiety,” Rastall said.
“You can learn at anytime in your life, you’re not limited by age.”
Breaking the Barrier
When Dani Johnston and McGarity met for the first time a year ago, they instantly became friends because of the priorities in their lives. They both wanted to focus solely on schoolwork. Not the drinking, partying and staying out till sunrise.
“A lot of people — college students — they don’t really shun him, but they don’t really connect very well with him, because they have completely different priorities,” Johnston says of McGarity. “He has zero patience for people like that.”
For most students the age gap hasn’t presented a challenge, McGarity says. He does remember one class in which this was true.
“The teacher was intimidated that I was in her class,” he says. “They stuck me in a class with a bunch of kids straight out of high school, and with a teacher young enough to be my granddaughter.”
His wife, Betty, said he struggled in the beginning, but it got better over time.
“When he got to his second year, he seemed like he was enjoying it, the students were more mature and more interested in what they were doing,” she said.
McGarity is thrilled to be graduating on May 16, but now is facing the real world again.
“Now I’m faced with the same dilemma a 22-year-old is, what am I going to do next?” he asked, adding that while he’s really enjoyed the college experience, he acknowledges it’s time to move on.
“I’m probably in better financial shape than the 22-year-old is. I’m not worried about where my next meal is coming from,” he says. “I mean I’m relatively secure financially, but at the same time I’ve got to find something to occupy the hour and that’s really a concern.”
McGarity plans on looking for a job after graduating, but says it will be a difficult process.
“Once you’re in your 60s trying to re-enter the workforce, let’s be honest, it’s not the easiest thing in the world, so I don’t know how successful I’ll be in that regard.”
Both he and his wife say they’ll move if the money is right. Otherwise they plan on staying in their Loveland home. If the job search doesn’t go well, McGarity plans on attending graduate school for engineering at CSU.
“I think he’s just a really, really great guy who has finally achieved something in his life that he has wanted for a while and that people that see him judge him before they get to know him and really miss out on a special person,” Johnston said.
Visual Editor Rachel Dembrun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.