The Athabasca University (AU) motto, Learning for Life, represents a commitment to providing open and flexible education opportunities to learners young and old, anywhere in the world.
There are few learners or alumni at AU who reflect that ideal of lifelong learning more fully than Louisa “Louise” Daley, AU’s oldest graduate—and up until she decided this year to discontinue her studies, AU’s oldest learner at 96 years old.
She will be inducted into the Order of Athabasca University as part of the reimagined Convocation 2020 event on Oct. 2, in recognition and celebration of her commitment to lifelong learning. It’s an award she said she’s humbled to receive.
“I feel like they’re saying, ‘You’ve done something worthwhile,’” she said. “It’s like writing stories. There’s nothing like somebody saying, ‘I like that,’ and that’s more of less what Athabasca University is saying to me.”
“I’ve been alone now for 44 years, and you’ve got to fill in that time doing something. It’s no good just sitting back”– Louise Daley
Writing and laughter
Daley has been interested in reading, writing, and learning for most of her life. Born with a damaged heart, she was unable to run and play in the same way as her siblings and friends. Reading was, in effect, a window on the world.
At 12 years old, living in little village in England, her teacher assigned the class to write a poem, so she wrote a poem about a swing her older brother had built her. Her teacher “went crazy” over it.
“Then I just got big-headed,” she said with a laugh.
But Daley’s educational opportunities, in the traditional sense, ended when she was 14 years old. It was 1939, and her father’s employer transferred him due to the impending war. She left school to help her mother with the work around the house. At age 17 she got a paying job, doing war-related work, which she worked for two years before damaged heart made that no longer possible.
She married, had four children, and took on various jobs to help her family, until her husband passed away when she was 55 years old. But all the while, she kept up with her writing and in particular, writing poems and stories that would make people laugh.
“I like to see other people laugh,” Daley said. “When you live miserably, it brings you down a bit. But if you can make them laugh a bit, then you’re on top of the world as well.”
A life of learning
At one point during an argument, one of her daughters told her that she argued well and that she should enroll in the Open University in England. She took courses there, and after moving to Canada she started taking classes at AU—as much to fill the time and keep her brain sharp as anything else.
“I’ve been alone now for 44 years, and you’ve got to fill in that time doing something. It’s no good just sitting back,” she said.
Although Daley was just taking courses for her own interest rather than getting a degree, she earned enough credits to complete a Bachelor of Arts in 1999 and a Bachelor of General Studies in 2017—crossing the convocation stage at 93 years old.
She said she appreciated her time at AU, not just because of the support she felt from all the instructors and staff she dealt with, but also because the individualized study options diminished the anxiety she felt about being an older student doing undergraduate courses. She said she also appreciated knowing that the work she did was entirely her own, rather than being influenced by the interpretations of others in her classes.
“When you’re on your own, you’ve got to work it out yourself,” Daley said. “It’s like with (Shakespeare’s) Macbeth. I didn’t blame him. He had a wife that was nagging him to go and kill that guy, and in the end he gave in to her, but I think he might have been a good guy if he didn’t have that wife.”