Real Life

Aussie mum gets a degree at 73

The whole family was so proud of me

Sharon Sutton receiving her degree. (Image: Supplied)

Sharon Sutton, 73, shares her inspiring story with Take 5…

Putting down the book I was reading, I turned to my mum Phyllis.

“Next year, when I go to high school…,” I started, thinking of all the novels I’d soon be devouring.

But before I could finish my sentence, Mum cut me off.

“There will be no high school,” she said. “We don’t have money for uniforms or school shoes or books.”

It was 1963; I was 12 and had spent the whole of primary school not wearing any shoes, but I dreamed of being a teacher.

My family were very poor and my three older siblings hadn’t gone on to high school. Two of them had started work and my older sister stayed home to help mum look after the younger kids.

Two weeks before I turned 13, I started cutting threads off shirts in a clothing factory.

Me, around 14 years old. (Image: Supplied)

One year later, I started dating George, 17, a local boy who knew my brother, Martin.

We married when I was 17 and he was 21.

In time, we had our three kids Darcy, Georgina and Kelly.

George found work on cattle stations so we moved to the outback in Western Queensland.

I taught our three kids during their primary school years and that scratched my teaching itch a little, but the desire to study more never left me.

“When we retire, I want to go to university,” I told George.

I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

After 40 years in the outback, we retired in 2015 and I seized my chance.

At the age of 66, I enrolled in a program with the University of the Sunshine Coast called the Tertiary Preparation Pathway which helped mature students prepare for university.

Darcy, Georgina, George, me and Kelly. (Image: Supplied)

Next, I enrolled in a BA majoring in English.

Walking onto campus that first day in February 2017, it was clear I was the oldest student there but that didn’t put me off in the slightest.

My biggest challenge wasn’t the course work; it was the technology.

Before submitting my first assignment, I turned to two girls sitting at the table next to me.

“How do I send this in?” I asked.

They kindly showed me but as I clicked “send” I was terrified all that work had disappeared into the black hole of cyberspace never to be seen again.

My grandchildren constantly sent me encouraging messages saying, “We’re so proud of you, Granny” or asking how I was doing.

I loved campus life and was very sad when COVID meant we had to move all our lectures online.

I passed all my subjects with flying colours and when I was invited to graduate, I cried. I couldn’t believe I’d done it.

With George on my graduation day. (Image: Supplied)

George, my sister Alexis, 63, daughter Georgina, and granddaughter Taylor all came to my graduation ceremony in April 2023 and sat in the front row.

Wearing my black robe and hat, I marched in to Johnny Farnham’s The Voice. I’ll never forget that feeling, waiting in the wings backstage for the Dean to call my name.

“This is a wonderful achievement,” he told me as he handed my degree.

I couldn’t agree more.

I’d love to do another degree but George will kill me.

“I thought the plan was to spend our retirement together!” he joked.

If you’re thinking of getting a degree just do it. I have three great grandchildren now and if I can get a degree aged 73, so can you.

My 6 grandchildren – L-R, Lane, Taylor, Morgan, Mishayla, Casey and Madison

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