Apart from the professors, the Evergreeners themselves attract Wassermann to the program. "I'm fascinated by the people who attend," she says. "I think the audience questions are amazing and educated, and I'm so impressed by the kinds of people we have in the Boston area."
Phyllis White, an effervescent former-teacher in her mid 60s, has audited more than 40 courses at BU — at least 10 on art history, every single Middle Eastern–studies class, and dozens on international relations.
"I know so many of the professors; I've become like a groupie to some of them," she says. "I didn't take a class last year because there was nothing left to take. I'd have to repeat. I've had Dr. Ribner. I've had them all."
White describes being in graduate seminars where the Evergreen students outnumbered the graduates 12 to six. She once took an art-history course from a professor whose daughter she'd taught in elementary school.
Despite her ambitious course load, she's not interested in getting another degree.
"Now I just want to go and listen. If I want to read the course material I read it. If I don't, I don't have to."
Seventy-five-year-old Cal Kolbe, the abovementioned woman with snow-white hair, was graduated from BU 50 years ago with a degree in English. Years later, she went back to school and got an MEd.
As a retired academic editor and writer, Kolbe was drawn to BU's Editorial Institute, a full-spectrum program in writing, publication, and literary editing. Since joining Evergreen four years ago, she's audited one course per semester.
"I had the great good luck of studying with Christopher Ricks, who is without question one of the great classroom professors," she says, referring to a graduate seminar she took with Ricks, the celebrated BU/Oxford literary critic who's dissected everyone from Tennyson to Dylan, on the theory and practice of editing. "It was all graduate students and me. I tried to be pretty quiet — after all, it is the students who are paying tuition, but they were gracious, they really were."
Of course, older learners don't have to participate in formal programs to continue their education. Boston is chock-a-block full of extension schools and non-degree programs for those who are interested in taking classes simply for enrichment.
Patricia McManus, 52, has spent her life studying languages. When her daughters were young, she took intermediate French three times at Salem State College. "It was the highest level that they offered," she says by phone from her house in Marblehead.
"At undergrad school, a lot of people are unsure about what they want to do. They're learning because they know that they need to get out and get a job," she says. "People who return to school are there because they're motivated in the way that I am. It's because they really love something."
McManus went on to study at Boston's Alliance Française and Biblioteque Française, the Harvard Extension School, and at language schools in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. She's also studied Italian in Perugia, Italy. She and her husband are in the process of moving to Miami, and so now she's taken up Spanish.
"I'll continue studying languages probably the rest of my life," she says. "And I'll just continue studying in general. I don't think education should be something that you stop when you're 22 years old."