Linda Kornfeld couldn’t ignore her love for learning and desire for a college degree.
When they call Linda Kornfeld’s name at DU’s June 9 Commencement ceremonies, she will proudly walk across the stage erected in Magness Arena. She will collect her diploma, and she will wear that “I did it” smile that complements a graduation cap and gown.
She will look out into the crowd and see her family cheering. Her kids. And her grandkids.
At 78 years old, Linda Kornfeld is graduating. She has no job in the works, no plans to start a new career. But she will finally have the pomp that, nearly 60 years ago, circumstances took away.
“I like to finish something I started,” Kornfeld says. “I love education. I love knowledge. I love being challenged.”
When Kornfeld was growing up, women were not graduating from college. Many weren’t even starting, opting to start families instead.
“But I felt [even then] that life is more than just having children and raising them, even though I love that aspect,” the mother of two says. “There’s more to life. At least more to my life.”
With a dream of curing the world’s ills, the East High School graduate stepped onto the DU campus in 1958, ready to pursue a degree in international relations. But then a charming young geologist drove through town, and life took a detour.
Kornfeld (then Miller) said no to a blind date, but after her mother made her feel guilty, agreed to take a drive in the mountains with him. “And by the time we got back, I knew he was the right man for me, and he felt the same,” she says. “And I laugh, because I don’t buy a pair of shoes that quickly.”
A “beautiful, magical” 44-year marriage brought children and eventually grandchildren, but also put Kornfeld’s college education on the shelf. She left DU, working from time to time for charitable organizations or performing clerical work.
Fifty-five years later, widowed, Kornfeld found herself back at DU, in Magness Arena, watching her granddaughter’s high school graduation. It bothered her, knowing she had never graduated herself.
“Things really clicked then,” she says. “I figured, why not?”
Taking one course every other quarter, Kornfeld returned to the classroom to study sociology. She calls the major a perfect match for a woman whose interests in helping the disadvantaged, the underprivileged and minorities have not faded over the years.
She has proven to her friends that she can keep pace with “young minds,” while showing her classmates that senior citizens still scribbling with pen and paper can handle college courses. They even ask for her “copious” notes when they miss class.
“I think part of that is they see I respect education,” she says. “They see I'm here to educate myself when I don't have to be. And I think they admire the value I put on education.”
That appreciation for education kept her from surrendering to the fear of taking on a group project with students young enough to be her grandchildren. It gave her the impetus to take on all the technology now associated with college-level work. Even with “Internet lessons” from her grandchildren, Kornfeld says computers were her greatest challenge. She recalls the time she “almost died” when faced with an online final exam. Or when she wrote 10 pages of a paper in Microsoft Word and forgot to click save.
Still, the straight-A student has flourished, determined to make the most of her second chance. She walks around campus now with a new appreciation for the activism and involvement of the student body.
“I feel more in touch with the world here,” says Kornfeld, who even studied abroad with an interterm photography course in Rome. “At my age, your world can get smaller, and I love the vastness of the world on a college campus.”
She has upped her course load to one class per quarter, at the urging of her granddaughter — the same one who went off to college after crossing that Magness Arena stage four years ago. That way, they will both graduate with the Class of 2018.
“This degree means satisfaction, a job well done and enjoyment throughout the journey,” Kornfeld says. “I’ve loved it. In fact I’m struggling that it’s coming to an end. I’m going to miss it.”
In that case, has she considered grad school?
“I’ve thought of that!”
But for now, her only plan involves volunteer work. Of course, after earning a degree at age 78, it’s hard to call anything out of the question.
“It’s never too late to follow your dream; I want young people to know that,” she says. “Take advantage of what life has to offer. Live outside the box or comfort zone. If they have a dream, follow it. And if they can’t right now, it’s never too late.”