Anusia Hirsch, standing with advisor Gene Ferraro (left) and her husband John, holds her degree and Luke Baldwin Award after Commencement.
A lot changed in the 40 years between Anusia Hirsch’s first year of college and her last. She got married, became a business owner and managed a multiple sclerosis diagnosis while raising two children. But there was still one thing Anusia hadn’t done: complete her bachelor’s degree.
Anusia's husband, son, and daughter hold eight degrees among them, and she didn’t exactly feel left out but…
“I turned 60 and thought … I can do that,” says Anusia.
A native of Marblehead, Mass., Anusia decided to go back to school, but she wanted a university with both online and in person classes that also supported adult learners.
“I was not trying to relive the college years. That ship has sailed a long time ago,” she says.
The Lesley Center for the Adult Learner (LCAL) program, which provides support and guidance for non-traditional students, attracted Anusia, who was convinced further by the university’s reputation.
Credits for life
Anusia was a “traditional” co-ed at the University of Southern Florida for one year in 1972, but she cut her college career short to continue an already thriving canvas bag company she’d started in high school. Returning home with her future husband in tow, the two opened the Simmered Down Shop.
“We were 21. For us that was a cool name,” she says of the moniker.
A few years later, the shop closed and Anusia began working in the travel business, eventually opening her own agency with her mother. Meanwhile, she got married and started a family as her husband launched his own business. Decades passed, and she was an empty nester finally ready to complete her bachelor’s degree.
Back to school
Becoming a student was different the second time around. Anusia, who has managed the finances for her husband’s company for years, is no Luddite, but she says, “When I went to college there was no internet. There were no cell phones. One professor required Twitter. I’ve never done any of that stuff before.”
Plus, her study skills were rusty, and her classes were challenging. “I worked seven days a week. I never took a day off,” she says.
As she worked toward a psychology degree, Anusia sometimes questioned what she was doing.
“At the beginning, it was very overwhelming. I wasn’t sure that this was actually going to happen,” she says.
However, her advisor Gene Ferraro had no doubts.
“Right from day one I found Anusia to be incredibly bright—one of the most motivated students I think I’ve ever worked with. Nothing held this woman back,” he said.
Gene’s encouragement gave Anusia the confidence to keep going. “He said, ‘Just do one at a time. You don’t stop and suddenly four years is done.’ It was pretty amazing.”
Some of her coursework from 1972 transferred to Lesley, and Anusia also benefited from her extensive career and life experience. Through the Prior Learning Assessment Program, she submitted 11 papers and binders full of supporting documents that garnered her 28 credits. She wrote about running her own businesses, teaching her children personal finance basics, and managing the accounting for multiple businesses.
She also wrote about her 25-year struggle with multiple sclerosis. Despite the diagnosis, she managed to keep many of the more debilitating symptoms at bay through stress management, her diet, and exercise, even achieving a black belt in martial arts in her fifties.
“I wrote a paper about what it’s like to go through it, how you deal with it,” she says. “It sucks. Let’s face it, no one is going to do it for you.”
That attitude served Anusia well as she persisted through four years of coursework at Lesley (for which she got all A's).
Forty years in the making
Despite her hard work, it took the prodding of her family, advisor, and professors to persuade Anusia to put on her cap and gown. Once at Commencement she discovered she was both the salutatorian and the Luke Baldwin Award recipient, given to one LCAL student each year who has taken the risk to return to college and who embodies Baldwin’s commitment to lifelong learning and community service.
The achievement was particularly meaningful as Anusia crossed the stage. Due to occasional mobility issues, her daughter walked with her as friends and family members cheered in the crowd.
“It was a very special moment, and my kids and my husband were very proud of me,” she says. “They’ve had multiple graduations each. It (was) my turn.”
Now that she’s achieved her bachelor’s many ask if Anusia is sending out her résumé, but she politely answers: “Hell, no.” She’s already had a full career.
“I’m waiting for grandchildren,” she says.
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