While many people opt for a quiet life once they become a pensioner, Barbara Michaels doesn’t believe in sitting around doing nothing.
And so, when she was just shy of her 70th birthday, she decided to do something she had always regretted not doing and signed up for a BA (Hons) in English Literature at Cardiff University.
Three years later, aged 73, and surrounded by family and friends, she graduated “cap and gown and all” with a 2:1 degree.
She believes that experiencing life as a mature student opened many new doors for her and, sharing her story as part of Age Cymru’s first ever Age Positive Week, she says it’s never too late to try something new.
A mum-of-three and grandmother-to-six, Barbara, a writer and freelance journalist and editor of Bimah magazine for the Jewish community in Mid and South Wales, said: “I did quite well at school and earned enough points to go to university but I was desperate to be a journalist so decided to get straight into that.
“My dad had left school at 14 and was a great supporter of education and was horrified when I chose not to go but I got into journalism and started at the bottom.
“I had a very successful career, working for magazines like House Beautiful and OK as well as running a syndication agency.
“I was doing some courses at the Centre for Lifelong Learning in Cardiff and I happened to mention to my tutor Sheila Weeks that I wished I’d gone to university and she said: ‘Well, why don’t you?’
“They were looking for mature students so I did a course in poetry and was accepted on the course.
Ii“It was very scary and a lot of hard work. I couldn’t stay up all night writing essays like the younger students could but after three years I graduated with a 2:1 degree.
“I got to wear the cap and gown in front of my family, who whooped their way through the ceremony, and I was immensely emotional. I hope my dad was looking down on me that day. I think he’d have been very proud.
“I made some fantastic friends. In fact, one of my closest friends is someone I met on the course.
“She was a mature student too, although nearly half my age and young enough to be my daughter but we’ve become great friends. It was a wonderful experience. I have many good friends of my own age who I love dearly but making friends with younger people does add an extra dimension. As well as being of immense value it keeps you up to date with current trends.”
Now 81, Barbara, who has a blog called Barbies Buzz as well as a Twitter account, still likes to keep busy, travelling regularly to see her family and writing critical reviews of dance, theatre and opera for the Third Age critics and The Public Reviews (a nationwide critic website).
But she says she would not be able to do everything without the loving support of her family, as well as her partner Mel Harmer.
Her husband David died from an inoperable brain tumour when he was in his 60s and she was on her own for four-and-a-half years before she met her current partner while on holiday.
He proposed within three weeks of meeting Barbara and, even though she was living in London at the time, she made the brave decision to start a new life with him in Cardiff when she was 63, proving that love has no age barrier either.
“I was terrified about moving down here and even wrote Mel a letter telling him I couldn’t do it but I did. It was a risky thing to do, I was leaving all my friends and my social circle but I had the sort of job I could do anywhere and Mel, a builder, couldn’t. Cardiff wasn’t like it is now back then. There weren’t the number of theatres and restaurants and it took a long time to settle but I’m glad I did.
“The children were obviously wary at first but they have grown very fond of him. I suppose I took the bull by the horns and went for it. Sometimes you just have to do that.
“I think Age Positive Week is wonderful. I would say to anyone that it’s never too late. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
“If you are sorry that you have not done certain things in your life, there is still time.
“Make the most of your life and don’t let it pass you by. Use what you’ve got. You can’t always do what you want to, when you want to, but often things will come along at a different time.”
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