Osra Lindo immigrated to Canada from Jamaica and raised four children while finding work in banks around Toronto. When she enrolled at York University, the commute from her Scarborough home included both the bus and the subway and lasted almost two hours, each way.
This fall, after four years of commuting, Ms. Lindo met her goal: She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in gender, sexuality and women’s studies.
Ms. Lindo is 79 years old.
“It was my time,” she said. All of her children were grown, “and that’s when I decided, yeah, I’m going to do something for me. And it was four lovely years at York.”
Ms. Lindo’s accomplishment speaks to the simple pleasure of learning no matter your age – and she’s not about to stop.
Ms. Lindo is a petite woman who has seemingly boundless energy and a contagious laugh. She speaks warmly of her family and her home is filled with their pictures, including those of her five grandchildren.
She is also firm with her advice to other seniors: "Get up and go. Get up and do something."
About five years ago, she was at the library when she noticed a flyer for a bridging course that would allow her to apply for university entrance. Ms. Lindo had made sure her children pursued a higher education and now it was her turn.
She said she chose gender, sexuality and women’s studies because she wanted to learn about a topic that was “relevant.”
“It’s a living subject,” she said. “What gender and women studies did for me is it opened my eyes and my mind ... I didn’t know I was so ignorant of all these things that were happening around me. Things have changed and we have to open our minds and listen."
York president Rhonda Lenton described Ms. Lindo as an inspiration. While not diminishing the value of learning in pursuit of a career, Ms. Lenton said that Ms. Lindo reminds her that there’s also value in wrestling with ideas and of being interested in the world and the problems society faces.
Ms. Lenton said that the average age of those attending university has been increasing, as many return for a second degree. York has also seen the number of senior students – those older than 60 – climb. There were 325 in 2017, up from 266 four years prior.
Ms. Lenton said that Ms. Lindo’s story serves to inspire others that it’s never too late to attend university. In fact, at the same convocation in October, there was a woman in her 70s receiving her PhD.
“You don’t have to necessarily have a plan that you’re going to get a job. But [an education] impacts your life, it impacts how you think, it impacts what you can do as one person to make a difference in the world,” Ms. Lenton said.
Laura Mae Lindo, the youngest of Ms. Lindo’s children, remembers speaking with her mother about some of the issues she was dealing with. The elder Ms. Lindo understood the foundations of why it was important mostly because she was studying those topics at university, Laura Mae said.
Before being elected as an NDP MPP for Kitchener Centre, Laura Mae was the director of diversity and equity at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Laura Mae said her mom had always dreamed of earning a degree.
“To be honest, I think it’s one of the only things I’ve heard her say that she wanted for herself. I was just overjoyed, because finally she decided that she was going to put herself first," she said. "She didn’t realize how much it would challenge her.”
Ms. Lindo has plans to learn Japanese and French in the new year. But her biggest challenge, she said, is learning to play the piano. She goes for a half-hour lesson every week, but also makes sure she practises for at least an hour daily.
“My piano hates me, and I love it,” she said. “I tell my neighbour ‘If you see a piano on your porch, it’s mine, it has escaped. Push it back.’”
“The thing about me is when I make up my mind, then I go for it. I know it’s not going to be easy because this piano is driving me crazy, but I’m not giving up. I murder the tunes," she said, titling her head back as she laughed.
Laura Mae feels there’s more education in store for her mom. “She’s going to go back. She’s talked about it like she’s joking, but I guarantee you that somebody’s going to find a masters application with my mom’s name on it.”
Laura Mae added: “She’s not going to be able to just sit down, not when she’s been challenged in the way she has been.”