When Nancy Sivy walked across the stage May 3 for Notre Dame de Namur University’s undergraduate commencement ceremony, she was not your average graduate.
Sivy, a San Bruno resident, is 75 and after years of working decided she wanted to go back to school to obtain her bachelor’s degree in human services at the Belmont school, focusing on administration and counseling. She took classes in the evening as part of the professional studies program.
“I’ve always loved school,” said Sivy, who may go into a master’s program or volunteer for nonprofits. “I would especially like to work with kids who think they can’t go on to higher education. I want them to think ‘yes, I can.’”
Her decision to go back to school didn’t surprise her family, but her friends were another story. This came after Sivy, who is a widow with no children, retired at the age of 69.
“They said, ‘why? What are you going to do with it?’” she recounted. “I said, ‘I’m doing it for myself. It’s going to open up doors and opportunities.’”
Previously, she had worked as a customer service manager for a now defunct international exporter called Palco International after rising in the ranks there.
“Not having that degree made all the difference in the world when that company closed,” she said. “I worked as an administrative assistant elsewhere and then went to school for six months to get my general ed done at Skyline [College]. You can’t get into a managerial role without the degree.”
The Notre Dame de Namur graduation was interesting for Sivy, whose brother Frank made sure she went through with the ceremony.
“It felt wonderful,” she said. “It’s a experience. It completes a cycle and it’s kind of like closure.”
Learning from other students was one of the benefits of going back to school, she said. Those with families doing night school to complete their degrees are the people Sivy looks up to the most, she said.
“They’re the ones I really admire,” she said. “They’re raising families and going to school and they have to have their bachelor’s to get ahead in their professions.”
The most difficult part about going back to school is that writing essays has changed since she was last in school, she said.
“It’s a different way of thinking than when I went to school,” Sivy said. “You have to back up your claims and follow through. I did have tutors and the help was there at Notre Dame and free.”
Professors at NDNU also provided an important mentorship for Sivy, she said. Her favorite class was philosophy, a subject she initially feared. Michael Rende became her favorite teacher.
“I ended up taking three classes,” she said. “He (Rende) was absolutely fantastic. He could draw things from you and you didn’t even know it.”
She looked at University of San Francisco and San Francisco State University, but ultimately chose NDNU.
“When I walked on campus, I knew that this was my campus because it’s a small school,” she said.
For other older adults pursuing education, she encourages them to just go through with getting the degree.
“Do it, just do it,” she said. “Don’t let anything stand in the way. Don’t let any label get in the way.”
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