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Inspiring 87-year-old returns to Delta College

October 7, 2020

Photo of a farm

JoAnn Hawkins has a zest for life. Minutes into a conversation, you feel like you’ve known her for years. She’s warm, inviting and is excited about learning.

That enthusiasm is what led Hawkins to return to Delta College, more than 40 years after the first time she was a student in the 1970s. This semester, she’s taking an online class, Principles of Sociology.

“You don’t stop learning as long as you’re living,” said Hawkins, a Midland resident. “My mom used to tell us as kids, ‘If you don’t learn something new every day, you have not lived that day.’”

Hawkins was born and raised in Flint, where she graduated from high school at the age of 16 and worked for several years before she got married and had three children. When her husband died at 43, she got a job at Dow and decided to pursue an advanced education.

“When he passed, I thought, ‘In order to earn more money, I have to earn an education,’ and the best place for me was at Delta,” she said. “I took several history, political science and English classes, but then life got in the way.”

She had to care for several sick family members. She got remarried. She raised her children. She volunteered, was involved in the community and served as the first female PTA president of her children’s school. All the while, she found time to learn. And now, she’s earning college credit for her studies.

“The class this semester is very thought provoking and it has really opened a lot of new doors of thinking for me,” she said. “Right now, we’re learning about globalization and society. I’ve learned that the more you understand the background of people, the better off you’re going to be.”

Her son, Ric Shahin, a retired Midland Public Schools teacher, is helping her navigate the computer and technology associated with her online class.  

“My children are very encouraging,” she said. “When I told my son about wanting to go back to school, he helped me get set up at Delta.”

For Hawkins, going to college is not a big deal. It’s just another day for her and she encourages others, regardless of age, to make lifelong learning a priority.

“I have to age, I don’t have a choice, but I don’t have to grow old,” she said. “When you stretch your mind, you’re helping yourself and those around you because you have a better understanding of the world.”    

Written by Leah Twilley, Communications Specialist.