Serydynski will be the first in her family to graduate from college—and she’s doing it at an age when many people are thinking about winding down their careers.
The 54-year-old Hopkinton resident achieved the milestone thanks to URI’s Finish What You Started, a program that helps older students return to college to finish their degrees.
“I will tell you it feels really good to succeed—finally,” says Serydynski, who is majoring in Human Development and Family Studies. “I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”
Raised in Warwick, Serydynski graduated from Pilgrim High School in 1980 and then enrolled at URI that year. Her first weeks were tough. She was homesick and disoriented, even unaware that she could eat for free in the college cafeteria. Classes didn’t interest her.
“I really didn’t do that great in classes,” she says. “So I dropped out my sophomore year.”
She took courses at the Community College of Rhode Island for several years and worked full-time in a group home for adults, but decided to give URI another try in 1985. Again, it wasn’t right and she dropped out.
“I didn’t really need a college degree to advance in my job,” she says. “Then I got married and had two kids and life happened.”
The years passed. Her two children graduated from Prout High School and went off to college, and Serydynski flourished in her career. But something was missing: a college degree.
“It was always a source of embarrassment to me that I didn’t finish,” she says. “I would always say I went to URI and people would figure out that I didn’t graduate. It bugged me. I felt like I had let myself down.”
Turning 50 brought reflection. One day, a friend asked what her degree was in. Serydynski was crushed: “I was, like, ‘I don’t have one.’ ” The friend mentioned an article she had read in a local newspaper about URI’s Finish What You Started. The next day, Serydynski Googled the program on the Internet. Phone calls to coordinators ensued.
“They were angels,” she says. “They looked at my credits and told me what I needed to do. They made it so simple.”
Within two months—in the fall of 2014—she was sitting in a “Marriage and Family Relations” class at the Feinstein Providence Campus. At first, she felt awkward as an older student but as the months passed she settled in.
The staff provided support, academically and socially. She got help on how to do research and find her way around the library. Tutoring was available to her on Saturdays, if she needed it.
“Learning is actually quite fun,” she says. “I’m talking about things with my husband—high pressure, low-pressure systems for a general education science class—that I never would have talked about before.”
Serydynski is so excited about learning she’s considering getting her master’s degree, possibly in gerontology. Her advice for older students: “Jump in. Don’t put it off. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to get your degree. It’s amazing to finish.”
Pictured above: Jo-Anne Serydynski, 54, of Hopkinton, who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Rhode Island.
URI Photo by Nora Lewis