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'You're never too old to learn something new': 85-year-old Hancock student 'Zooms' closer to associate degree
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'You're never too old to learn something new': 85-year-old Hancock student 'Zooms' closer to associate degree

Seated behind a polished upright piano in the living room of her Santa Maria home, 85-year-old Peggy Johnson prefers to pass the time prior to her biweekly Zoom calls by playing church hymns with her Chihuahua/pug lapdog Noe at her feet.

Having stayed the course for the past three years and registering for no more than three classes at a time, Johnson says she's on track to earn her associate degree from Hancock College by next semester despite COVID-19.

"I might take more online classes with a focus on music," Johnson said. "I'm considering a bachelor's degree, but I'm not decided yet."

The senior student, who was once the pianist for her local church, said that in order to obtain her associate degree, a grouping of humanities courses which can include music studies is necessary.

So naturally, Johnson was drawn to take a second music class to fulfill the degree requirements while feeding her own love of music. 

"I play piano," Johnson said, "just not particularly well. But I do love music."

Nichole Dechaine, an assistant professor of music with the college who is also teaching Johnson's music history class this term, said Peggy has worked hard over the last several weeks and has learned much about the technology to keep up with the changes.

To help stop the spread of COVID-19, Hancock College closed its campus and moved its learning online, directing many teachers like Dechaine to use platforms such as Zoom to conduct their classes virtually.

According to Dechaine, Johnson has adapted to the new online modality pretty quickly.

"She attends our Zoom classes and has learned how to submit her papers and assignments online," Dechaine said of her spry student, who also has a tendency to bake for others. "She works harder than all of the other students and is an inspiration. She never gives up. We love her."

In response to her teacher's acknowledgment, Johnson said softly, "Maybe I'm only outstanding because of my age," and explained that tackling technology — even today's — is not a deal-breaker for her.

Having owned and operated a local insurance agency for over 35 years with her late husband, Johnson became accustomed to updating computer programs and finding new ways to automate their business systems.

"I also have a computer at home," she said. "It's fairly easy."

Johnson says the fact that all of her family members have earned their degrees — even a couple of grandchildren whom she attended Hancock College with, but never in the same classes — keeps her going and wanting to pursue more.

"Anything is possible. You can achieve anything you set your mind to," Johnson said. "You're never too old to learn something new."

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, a day most of us appreciate for taking our beloved mom out to a restaurant for a lovely dinner. In fact it’s the busiest day of the year for restaurants. But this year, we couldn't take her out, nor should we have been gathering family and friends together to celebrate her life with a toast of fine wine.

Lisa André covers Valley Life for Santa Ynez Valley News. 

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