Graduating grandma: It’s never too late

By Dan Landau

When Barbara Liggett graduates from Fairleigh Dickinson University on May 19, she’ll join more than 3,000 new grads as they walk across the stage at MetLife Stadium in front of their family and friends. Unlike her fellow graduates though, Liggett’s family audience will include her three children and five grandchildren.

The energetic septuagenarian will receive a Bachelor of Arts in individualized studies with a concentration in sociology.

Barbara Liggett

“I never finished my degree and all my life, I wanted it,” says Liggett, a resident of Madison, N.J. “I supported my husband in getting his, my kids got theirs and I’m enjoying watching my grandchildren get theirs. I was the only one in the family who didn’t finish. Graduating from FDU is a dream come true for me and something I wanted from the day I graduated high school.”

Liggett first began taking classes at FDU’s Florham Campus four years ago, as part of the University’s Florham Institute for Lifelong Learning (FILL), a program for local seniors that offers college courses at reduced rates.

“At the age of 72, I became a college student again and that decision came with a great deal of doubt and insecurity. I wondered: ‘how would traditional students view me? Am I tech-savvy enough to compete and not embarrass myself?’” reflects Liggett.

“I needn’t have worried though. It has been a most wonderful journey. I enjoy my classmates. They are exceptional young adults who have accepted me as a fellow student,” continues Liggett.

The feeling was mutual — several of Liggett’s classmates actually encouraged her to run for student government.

While Liggett did not run for student government, she did take advantage of everything else she could at FDU, including taking classes at the Metropolitan Campus.

“I needed a science class and I registered for a class on the Metro Campus, not knowing it was a bilingual class. I got there and the materials were in English, but everyone was speaking Spanish. They were so welcoming and kind, that I went back the next week and the class was a wonderful cultural experience for me,” says Liggett.

One of Liggett’s classmates in the bilingual science class was Merijoel Durán, an Emmy-award winning Univisión TV anchor. “I thought it was so inspiring that she was so accomplished already and yet she was going back to school,” says Liggett. “Then I found out that she was using my story to inspire people she worked with in the Latino community in Dover!”

Liggett and her family are very active in the Madison community, which makes graduating from FDU even more notable for her. “My husband and I ran a business in town and we used to volunteer with the rescue squad and fire department. To get a degree from my hometown university is really special,” says Liggett.

Liggett’s family also has strong connections to FDU: Her daughter Anne Weisgerber earned an MBA in marketing at the Florham Campus in 1995 while her other daughter, Cathy Liggett, is a Pillar of FDU and serves as the assistant athletic director for facilities, operations and sports medicine for the Knights at the Metropolitan Campus.

Now that she’s completed her degree, Liggett plans to continue to stay in the FILL program and take more classes. “I like the classes and this way I’ll get to enjoy the university without the pressure of tests,” she says.