Plenty of post-secondary students put their studies on pause to travel, work, or take a “gap year.” But Alma Kocialek managed to fit a family and a full career in her nearly four decades away from university life.

Now, at the age of 89, she is getting ready to don a cap and gown at Toronto’s York University to become the school’s oldest graduate, earning a degree in gender and women’s studies.

“I thought, well, I’m a woman and I’m going to try women’s studies,” she told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

Kocialek started her post-secondary education back in 1978 with the goal of becoming a clinical psychologist. She returned in 2011, after her husband died of cancer.

Like many York students, she said her school days started with an early morning drive to the nearest Go Transit station to catch a train to campus. She recalls having to rebuff a few detractors who said she shouldn’t be getting behind the wheel at her age.

“There are a lot of downers out there,” she said.

Once on campus, Kocialek found she quickly picked up the lingo of her younger classmates, much to the surprise of some of her non-student friends.

“I learned all their language,” she said. “One friend of mine who lives near Ottawa told me, ‘You’re talking like a teenager.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m with them all the time.’”

Her degree, she said, is proof that learning is a life-long endeavour, and that more people need to “get up and to live.”

She said her courses involved a lot of valuable critical thinking and memory work. But, like many new university graduates, she is looking forward to some summer relaxation.

“We have to keep our brains straightened out,” she said. “My brain is well stressed.”