Above: On July 28, 2012, Judi Kanne, at the age of 69, received her nursing pin from the School of Nursing at Clayton State University. Instructor Karen Weaver, PhD attached the pin, which identifies the school of newly graduated nurses. Photos courtesy of TGA Communications, LLC

Why did I go back to school at age 65? You could say, “I’m a glutton for punishment.” But the truth is I love school. And earning the Bachelor of Science in Nursing was important to me.

Looking back at 1975, when I was raising young children starting the long, long road to a formal education, the only DNA I knew meant “Do Not Apply.”

However, by 1999, medicine was rapidly changing with new treatments and advanced research. There was a lot of talk about DNA.

Personally, I knew I needed to get a handle on deoxyribonucleic acid or the real DNA, the self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms. But I admit, I was still working on its pronunciation.

A Little History

I married at 19 — happily, and I’m still with the same guy at 75. Like many young wives, I waited until the children were in school before returning to college at 28.

Ten years represented the age difference between me and my classmates in school for the sought-after RN. I was “young at heart” and the years didn’t seem to matter.

The perk for me was I always had nursing students available for babysitting. That same two-year nursing degree in 1975 led to public health nursing as a part-time career following our 1981 move to Georgia.

Looking at so many disparities in public health, I somehow felt the need, even then, to right all the wrongs I encountered. Later, I learned I could write about all that was wrong, and in that way, I hoped to make a difference in the lives of my readers.

Credibility was important to me. Nursing placed me in the “most honest and ethical profession,” according to almost all Gallup Polls. (Only the 2001 poll placed firefighters first, and that was certainly justifiable.)

At 45, I took my nursing degree credits, and about 70 credit hours from my varied junior college courses, to Georgia State University. And just like that, I was admitted to their journalism program.

A rusty brain?

At the time, our two daughters were in college and I was ready to see what I could accomplish. My brain felt a tad rusty, but I was ready. I graduated from GSU at age 49. The students never once made me feel like I was there 20 years too late.

The professors were mostly my peers and never once allowed any special privileges based on age. I recall my favorite history teacher placed an F on what I thought was a very well-written, three-page test response in a college Bluebook. His only comment was, “Nice writing, Judi, but you didn’t answer the question.”

After my Bachelor of Arts degree, I contracted as a communications specialist (also known as a writer with a medical background) for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An 11-year period of CDC contracting ensued, where I learned, lived and loved public health from some of the world’s foremost experts, including any number of career public health nurses.

The CDC experience led to incredible opportunities, from international travel to assignments in CDC’s world-famous emergency operations center. In fact, I headed to Geneva, Switzerland — twice! — for projects working with some of the greatest public health minds within the Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s world headquarters. It was a thrilling experience, to say the least.

But, I still needed help pronouncing deoxyribonucleic acid.

Former Atlanta Mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young, speaker at Georgia State University’s August 1991 graduation, congratulates Judi Kanne on her achievement.

The final goal

By the time I retired from full-time contract work at CDC, I was ready to re-enter the academic world with one last goal — a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Intellectually, I knew that the information I’d learned about our bodies had not changed since 1975, but technology had. And I was certain I had a lot of catching up to do. I wasn’t sure if I could still study, learn and pass exams in my 60s.

I thought Clayton State University (CSU) would welcome me with open arms as I applied to their well-respected RN to BSN program. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Even with years of experience in public health, and even though because of my age I could attendwith no tuition fees — it quickly became apparent no free ride for the BSN was being offered.

After meeting with an advisor, I discovered CSU wanted me to complete a number of prerequisites — those dreaded “washout” courses that were not part of my original Associate Degree in Nursing, including statistics, microbiology and pathophysiology.

These were far more difficult than the anatomy and physiology courses I passed in the 70s. Suddenly, I was terrified and felt very insecure.

I made up my mind that I would take one course at a time. If it was enjoyable, then I would take the next step, and then the next. After all, I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone but myself.

In 2012, I walked across the stage to receive my second pin in nursing with my new best nursing friends. That walkremains one my life’s highlights.

Get More Info

If you want more information about attending college in Georgia as an older adult, go to aseniorcitizenguideforcollege.com and click on “Find Your State Tuition Waivers,” then choose “Georgia.” Or call the college or university near you and ask to speak to an advisor.

Judi Kanne

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.