KINGSTON, R.I. – April 23, 2007 – University of Rhode Island sophomore Gail Harvey is not your typical student. As a 62-year-old grandmother of six from Cranston, Harvey did something most people would never dream of. She quit her job and went back to school.
“In early November of 2006, I decided to quit a job that had become toxic and go back to school,” said Harvey, who wrote promotional material for an engineering firm. “I can’t help but think the “Songs of Social Justice” Honors Colloquium was the engine for this decision. I had thought about going back to school for a degree but had never really committed to the idea until I attended the colloquium.”
The “Songs of Social Justice: Rhetoric of Music” honors colloquium, held in the fall of 2006, explored how music had been –and continues to be—a constant refrain in shaping the political and social experience.
Harvey’s sister-in-law and brother-in-law knew she was a fan of musicians Buffy Saint-Marie and Tom Paxton and told her that the two performers were part of URI’s semester-long series.
After attending the first performance by legendary rapper Chuck D., Harvey remembers turning to her sister-in-law and saying that she really wanted to go back to school and study history. Tricia Rose, professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, another speaker, further stirred her love of history.
“This feeling of wanting to go back to school grew with every session I attended,” said Harvey. “After I left the auditorium each week I became more energized and angry about the war and wondering what exactly I could do. The performances of Tom Paxton and Buffy Saint-Marie made me realize that change starts with small steps. I couldn’t change the world but I could change how the rest of my life was going to be.”
A native of New York City, Harvey attended the University of Denver in the mid-60’s, majoring in history and English. She had to drop out after two years when her father became ill, never finishing her degree.
Harvey had other motivations to go back to school. “I wanted to be an example to my grandchildren and to teach them that you can do anything at any age and that the most important part of life is to be involved with your world,” she said.
“I want the validation of having a degree,” added Harvey who is currently taking classes at URI’s Feinstein College of Continuing Education. “I have been kept back in jobs because I didn’t have one and now I’d like to see what it actually does for you in the world.”
After graduating from URI, Harvey, who has always served her community volunteering and fundraising, would like to work in the political arena where she feels people can really make a difference. “I fear we are a nation that has forgotten its history and we are always looking for the most comfortable solution to the nation’s problems.”
Harvey plans to attend next year’s colloquium. “Life before the colloquium was fine, but life now is like a kaleidoscope of colors. I wake up every morning energized and thankful I am doing something for myself. I never realized when I was younger how much education means and how exciting it can be. There is no doubt in my mind that without the “Songs of Social Justice” colloquium I would not be a sophomore at URI.”
URI News Bureau photo by Michael Salerno Photograhy