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93-Year Old College Grad: It’s Never Too Late

June 3, 2019 | by Rivka Ronda Robinson

Joyce Lowenstein is not your typical great grandmother.

Joyce Lowenstein had to rein in her business and social life to go back to college at age 87. The rewards were worth the sacrifice, she said recently at her Atlanta condominium.

At the Graduation

Just after turning 93, Mrs. Lowenstein received her college degree in art history from Georgia State University in May. “My goal was to walk across the stage with my cane. And I did,” she proudly reports. “My granddaughter put on my graduation cap ‘It’s never too late.’ ”

“We are so proud of Granma Joyce,” said her grandson, Dovy Arnow, who lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. “She worked so hard and overcame all the difficulties to achieve her goal. Granma is an inspiring role model for all of us.”

During the commencement ceremony university President Mark Becker commended the petite great-grandmother for her perseverance. She earned a standing ovation when she walked across the stage in black cap, black gown with blue trim, and silver-and-black Michael Kors sneakers.

According to the local newspaper, University System of Georgia officials looked up records from as far back as 2002. They showed Mrs. Lowenstein to be the oldest graduate during that time of any of the 26 schools the system oversees.

An interior designer and entrepreneur who began collecting art at age 20, she closed one antique business and still has one left. That posed a challenge to her college studies. “Being in business, my phone rang all the time. I had all kinds of questions to answer. I am represented in two showrooms, so they would call.”

Not Your Typical Great-Grandmother

As she says, she’s not your typical great-grandma. She jetted to Europe for years to bring back containers of antiques for her showrooms. Her own home filled with whimsical paintings, statues and masks, Mrs. Lowenstein had to scale back and turned the day-to-day decisions over to her longtime assistant, Barbara Domir.

Graduation Ceremony

Other challenges included the need to curtail her social whirl to focus on classes and studies. “Most of the time I’d say, ‘I’m having a test on Monday so how can I do this on Sunday?’”

A hospitalization in 2017 set her studies back. But the elegant graduate with beautiful make-up and coiffed gray hair exhibits a feistiness that served her well in her quest. In response to a visitor’s amazement at her facility with a smart phone and apps like Instagram as she pauses to show pictures of her daughter and large family who live in Israel, Mrs. Lowenstein replies with a laugh, “I’ve had an iPhone for a couple years…do you think I’m too old? Well, I’ve been in business. I need it.”

Her unconventional route has taken twists and turns. Born in Miami in 1926, she enjoyed the good life playing tennis and swimming, then dropped out of college after 1½ years to marry her first husband. Her educational pursuits were interrupted for nearly 70 years to be a wife, a mother of two and a career woman.

Thanks to Georgia’s tuition waiver for senior adults, she picked up her lost dream again after her husband, Larry Lowenstein, died. A public relations man to stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Arthur Godfrey, he had always encouraged her to go back to school.

Mrs. Lowenstein needed to make big adjustments. For instance, she couldn’t hear well, so professors gave her permission to record their lectures on her iPad and gave her extra time to study for tests. She never learned to type, so Ms. Domir kindly transcribed her notes for art, anthropology, film, history, political science and other classes. A Mathematics and Art book weighed 5½ pounds, making it difficult to shlep from room to room in the condominium.

Add to the mix a generational culture shock. “I’d get in the elevator with students who had orange hair. The next day it would be blue, green.” However, she praises her younger cohort. “I noticed they were much better spoken than people I went to college with in 1943. We weren’t that sophisticated. How could we be? We didn’t have the Internet. I made some friends where we would go out on the weekend and have lunch.”

Learning Keeps the Memory Sharp

Mrs. Lowenstein competed only with herself. Her burning ambition resulted in a grade point average topping 4.0. She earned straight As and a few pluses. “It was a lot of work, but I liked it,” she declares. “The best thing you can do is study something. Take any course and it’s going to help your memory.”

Mrs. Lowenstein

With an app on her phone to teach herself to type, Mrs. Lowenstein remains determined to continue learning. After a pause from schoolwork to catch up with family and friends, she wants to take an online fine arts appraising course.

She encourages others to fulfill goals on their bucket list, whether of college degrees or other dreams.

Mrs. Lowenstein confides, “My mind doesn’t think like I’m 93. The body’s old but the mind is young. But I’m going to make the body younger with exercise and physical therapy.”

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