More than four decades ago, Denise Plotzker sacrificed her college education to marry and raise a family, promising herself back then that she would someday return for a bachelor’s degree.
That day finally arrived on May 5, 2017, for the 64-year-old Plotzker, who studied online for the last four years with Roosevelt University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and delivering a Commencement speech to fellow graduates about her journey.
“I am proof that it is never too late to graduate from college,” Plotzker told fellow graduates. “I hope to inspire and encourage any older adults who have wanted to go to college, but thought you were too old, to take the leap of faith. You can do it!”
A fitness consultant for 34 years, Plotzker frequently considered returning to college after making a conscientious decision to leave Indiana University in 1971 with only one semester of coursework under her belt. As a resident of Sea Ranch, Calif., a small town on California’s remote north coast, there were no colleges nearby, and the years continued to pass.
While attending a ceremony four years ago when her daughter obtained a PhD, Plotzker noted that all her friends and family members at the graduation had a college degree. She remembered her promise and vowed to fulfill it at a school where she could walk for a diploma near her hometown of Evanston, Illinois.
“She checked out a lot schools, and when she contacted me, I thought she would be a good fit,” said Chris Rogers, a Roosevelt admission counselor who recommended the University’s complete degree online programs in criminal justice, psychology, interdisciplinary studies, organizational communication, organizational leadership or sustainability studies.
With a desire to help at-risk youths, Plotzker chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a program where half of all students are studying online.
“As a child of the ‘50s, I did not grow up with computers…I knew how to email and how to Google something, but my knowledge stopped there,” Plotzker told fellow graduates during her Commencement speech in the Auditorium Theatre on May 5.
“The first time I was asked to create a thread, I was dumbfounded. I thought a thread was something you sew with, and I had no idea how to create one on a discussion board,” she said.
Plotzker thanked everyone who helped her succeed and many who supported her along the way. She also credited Rogers with being the “guiding light” who helped her gather her 45-year-old transcripts, and who promptly responded to emails and phone calls whenever she had questions.
“Every time she (Plotzker) told me ‘I can’t do it,’ I connected her with people who could help,” said Rogers. “I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary,” he added. “I just did everything I could to make sure she could make her dream come true.”
Rogers nominated Plotzker to be Roosevelt’s 2017 student Commencement speaker as an inspiration to “older people who may want to go back to school, but are afraid.”
“It was not easy, but as an older adult I found I was motivated to be a good student,” Plotzker acknowledges. “Graduates, please reach out to help anyone who is contemplating going back to college,” she said from Roosevelt’s Auditorium Theatre stage. “I will leave you with three words that helped me along the way: Motivation. Determination. Perseverance.”