Dargaville & Districts
Eighty-three-year-old Dawn Taylor is living proof you are never too old to learn.
In between milking cows and helping out with five grandchildren she has completed a post-graduate diploma in arts majoring in English.
"I was always the oldest in the class but the younger people were so good to me and I really made a lot of friends. They treated me like a mother," she says.
Mrs Taylor dropped out of school in form 4.
After her three children left home she passed School Certificate and University Entrance at the age of 62.
Mrs Taylor was encouraged by her teachers to head to university 19 years ago and hasn't looked back enrolling in a bachelor of arts majoring in English and women's studies.
She says age shouldn't be a barrier to learning and she reckons older folk are possibly more determined to pass because they can't afford to re-sit papers.
"It costs a bit on the pocket," she says.
"I think it's very important to study as it gives you a wider outlook on life, and you make lots of friends. I've made friends for life.
"People always ask me `why are you doing that and what are you going to do?' and I say that I enjoy it, it keeps my brain active and you're never too old to learn."
Mrs Taylor says studying has more than kept her mind young and has also encouraged other family members to take the plunge into tertiary learning.
Her son Brian is doing a degree in history and several of her grandchildren have been inspired to study.
One of her biggest supporters is her husband Laurie who she met when working as a general nurse at Dargaville Hospital.
They married when she was 21 and a year later she gave birth to the first of three children.
They have been together 63 years.
Mrs Taylor wanted to write up her husband's wartime stories and thought her lack of formal qualifications would hinder the project, so she headed back to school.
"I wanted to write up his memoirs so the whole family could have them."
She has been piecing together the memoirs, and hopes to have them completed this year.
Mrs Taylor admits studying isn't for the faint hearted.
Getting to class was a mission sometimes and she would often journey 13 hours from her home at Baylys Beach to the Massey University campus in Palmerston North.
"Well I had to discipline myself ... and it gave me independence I think."
One of those bus journeys took an interesting turn and ended up being one of the highlights of her student life.
"Two years back I nearly missed the bus and so I called a taxi but he ended up being late, so I hitched a ride with a guy who turned out to be a boy racer and he shot off like a hawk in the direction of the bus driver, ensuring that I caught my bus. "So I guess you could say I've had some exciting moments. He was going pretty fast," she says.
Laurie says he is "terribly proud" of his wife.
"It's not as though she can do it overnight, we're on a farm and there's all sorts of things she gets interrupted with."
He's learnt a lot from his wife's studies.
"It's been an education for the whole family, they are all so interested in what she's doing, so it's all rubbed off on us."
Massey University senior lecturer Sarah Ross says Dawn is an extraordinary lady.
"She has displayed a true love of life-long learning, pursuing interests in English, women's studies and numerous other subjects through Massey's offerings to distance learning students.
"I have watched with admiration as Dawn has completed her programme with us."
Dr Ross says her fondest memory of Dawn is when she wrote an essay on one of the most famous poems of the English renaissance, a poem celebrating the stately home of Penshurst, in Kent, written by Ben Jonson in 1616.
"It turned out that Dawn's grandfather had been a gardener at Penshurst in the 19th century.
This connection provided our class with a living link to the 400-year-old poetry that we were studying – and it meant that Dawn's studies illuminated her own life history in an enormously rewarding way," she says.
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