Never too old for a degree

84-year-old Naugatuck woman graduates from Post University

 

Charlotte Butler, of Naugatuck, waits for commencement exercises to begin at Post University in Waterbury on May 13. Butler received an associate’s degree in criminal justice. -CHRISTOPHER MASSA/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — More than six decades after she originally thought about going to college, Charlotte Butler donned a black cap and gown and received her associate’s degree.

Butler, an 84-year-old Naugatuck resident, was one of 1,248 students to graduate from Post University in Waterbury on Saturday.

“I am thrilled that I can do this,” said Butler in an interview a couple of days before her graduation.

Butler, who will turn 85 in June, enrolled at Post in 2013 almost on a whim.

“One day I left the bank and I decided to stop over at Post because I heard if you reach a certain age you can take a class for free,” Butler said.

When university officials found out how old she was, her attempt to enroll at Post was met with more enthusiasm than she had predicted.

“I had people come in and take pictures of me, and they decided to give me a grant,” Butler said. “I thought I would be able to get a free course, if I was fortunate enough. I was very surprised when I received a grant.”

The grant meant that Butler could take the courses she needed to get her degree. So she began working towards a degree in human services.

However, shortly after she started, Butler fell and fractured her hip.

The human services degree requires an internship, which she was no longer able to complete, Butler said.

Instead of giving up, Butler changed her degree to criminal justice because her father, Charles Ferris, who was a dairy farmer, used to talk about his desire to be a lawyer.

“He always wanted to be a lawyer. When I had to switch courses I thought I should do what he always wanted to,” Butler said.

While she is just earning her degree now, Butler has desired to go to college since she was young and working at a dentist’s office.

“At that time it wasn’t a business like today. [The dentist] taught me a lot. I thought I should go get my degree if I want to keep working here,” Butler said.

Butler said she passed the entrance exam, but shortly after, in 1952, she got married.

“At that time you stayed home and took care of your kids. Some husbands didn’t want their wives to work,” Butler said.

Butler said she and her husband divorced after 30 years of marriage. She began working, including getting a secretary job at the University of Bridgeport. She took some courses at the University of Bridgeport, but never really pursued her degree until she enrolled at Post.

Butler said the hardest part about earning the degree wasn’t the classes, but the steep learning curve she faced in operating a computer because all of her classes were online.

“The courses weren’t nearly as bad as learning the new technology with the computer. I had to understand how it worked before I could get my mind set on it. I learned by doing,” Butler said.

Butler said part of the reason she chose to get her degree was to encourage her adopted son, John, who was 23 at the time she enrolled, to go to college. Butler said she figured if she was earning her degree he wouldn’t have any excuses not to. Her plan worked, and John graduated from Lincoln Technical Institute, she said.

“I like to think I helped him,” Butler said.

Although she has earned her associate’s degree, Butler isn’t ready to give up being a college student yet.

“Now I can continue and do my human services degree I had originally wanted to do,” Butler said. “I have 48 credits left over.”

Butler said she is on pace to have her bachelor’s degree in two and a half years.

She hopes her story inspires other people to seek out an education for themselves.

“If I can go in and ask for a course, I think other people should do that rather than sit back and watch television,” Butler said.