Marion Langdon likes to say she’s been a college senior for 45 years. But she can’t say that anymore.
On Saturday, at 72 years old, Langdon graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in Liberal Studies. She walked at the Coast Coliseum with 290 other graduates.
Langdon actually started her college education when the Long Beach campus was Gulf Park College for Women, a private, two-year women’s college — more than 50 years ago. She went to USM in Hattiesburg in 1970 for two years, and then returned to the Gulf Park campus in earnest in 2007.
For the last 10 years, she has taken one or two courses each semester. In all the years she has been attending class — going back to 1963 — she amassed 170 credit hours, though she needed only 120 for a degree. She said she was in it for the love of learning, to keep her mind sharp.
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The more classes she took, the more she wanted to learn, and it just kept building, she said, until her counselor said it was time to graduate.
She won’t end her studies at a bacholor’s degree. She plans to start on her master’s, perhaps in creative writing.
The petite blonde with sparkling green eyes and a New Orleans accent, who plays pickleball at the senior center for fun but listens to books on philosophy and ethics while she jogs, had an ageless look about her Saturday.
The commencement ceremony was a rush of excitement. The speaker, USM’s Gulf Coast Research Lab biologist Jim Franks, reminded the graduates: “Each of you today is taking a victory lap.”
While receiving an honorary degree of his own, Franks declared, “Later on in life you can have milestones that are a major source of inspiration.”
Source of inspiration
Langdon developed a youthful approach to life. College has given her a new way to interpret the world.
“I used to love the (Mississippi) flag, until I found out it was insulting to some people,” she said. “Then it insults me too.”
Her geography professor said her positive attitude, her life’s work of learning and being open to new ideas has made her a positive influence on everyone in his class.
There were difficulties.
Technology can be tricky, she said. “Every six months, you change your password and sometimes, in six months, I forget how to do it.”
She has chronic fatigue syndrome and occasionally would fall asleep in class, but a fellow student would tap her on the shoulder.
“My teachers knew I was trying,” she said. She graduated with the equivalent of a B.
Age is perception
Langdon doesn’t dwell on age.
“Most people think 72 is old,” she said. “Even my doctor — she said, ‘You’re getting old.’ She doesn’t want me roller skating anymore. I do, but it has to be a very smooth surface.”
“I guess I’ve had a good life,” she said, “lucky to get an education.
“I appreciate it so much more now. It’s not something I have to do. I love going to classes.”
She also learned you don’t talk about your grades with other people.
“When I went years ago, they posted grades on the door with your name on it. Now it’s all secret. That’s good, to have privacy.”
Other changes she likes: “It used to be mankind and now it’s humankind and women are more equal .... I like the computer and love taking classes online, but the technology sometimes gets to me.
“I have to study a lot harder. It doesn’t come as easy. I write my notes and make a test for myself. I read the book, all the chapters. I don’t just go by the notes.”
USM Gulf Park
Class size: 321 earning degrees, 291 participating Saturday
USM president: Rodney Bennett
Vice president for USM Gulf Park: Steve Miller
Commencement speaker: Jim Franks, USM’s Gulf Coast Research Lab senior research scientist with 40 years’ experience in the Gulf of Mexico, recently honored with having USM’s new research vessel named for him. Received an honorary Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa.
Quotable: “It’s a great thing to see the finished product.” — USM Gulf Park Associate Professor Ken Zantow, carrying the banner for the College of Business.