After retiring, one great-grandmother goes back to school to finish what she started six decades earlier.

When it comes to accomplishing dreams you set out for yourself as a kid, it’s never too late. One great-grandmother from Queensland is living proof that your dreams stick with you forever.

Sharon Sutton didn’t grow up with much. When she was a kid, she wasn’t able to attend high school because of a lack of resources. At age 12, she got a job to help her family pay the bills. 

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person cutting cloth with scissors
Photo by cottonbro studio

Fast forward six decades and 73-year-old Sharon is pictured throwing her graduate cap during her commencement ceremony. “I’ve never stopped learning,” Sharon said. “Even in those 55 years between finishing primary school and starting university, I don’t think I ever stopped learning. I was always reading something and finding something new.”

As a kid, Sharon loved to go to school. She had aspirations of becoming a history and geography teacher when she graduated. “I just assumed I was going on to high school,” she said. “I said something to my mum about, ‘Next year when I go to high school’ — and she told me that there was no high school… because mum and dad didn’t have the money to buy uniforms or books or shoes. I was 12 when I started working in a clothing factory, which today would be called a sweatshop.”

Sharon always knew she would get her degree one day. Over the next 40 years, Sharon and her husband worked on a cattle farm while raising their children and grandchildren.

When she retired, she remembered what she set out to do and enrolled herself at the University of the Sunshine Coast. At school, she studied a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English and minoring in history and Indigenous studies.

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Today, Sharon stands proud of the five years she worked to get her degree. She was constantly surrounded by people much younger than her but always managed to keep her head up. “I didn’t just scrape over the line, she said. “I got good marks in so many subjects and so many assignments.” 

What Sharon found the most difficult in all of her studies was the technological aspect. She had to create PowerPoints and submit online assignments, which she had never done before. “I can remember submitting my first assignment and wondering whether it was going into the black hole of technology and if I’d ever see it again,” Sharon said. “PowerPoint presentations were an absolute nightmare, but I always got over the line with the content.” 

When Sharon was completing the forms for graduation everything became real. “I started to cry. I thought, ‘Gee, it’s real now, it’s not something just down the track. It’s actually going to happen, I’m actually going to get a university degree,’” she said. “I think Mum would be proud.”

Sharon’s message to everyone wanting to further their education is to “just go for it.” It’s never too late to finish what you started.

“The environment and the atmosphere is so good, and mixing with the young people and listening to their views on things — it’s just a great experience,” she mentioned. “I miss it terribly already.”

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