Joyce Lowenstein had an unconventional, yet remarkable, path to receiving her bachelor’s degree Thursday from Georgia State University.
Her pursuit began in 1943. It was interrupted for nearly 70 years with being a wife, a mother, spoiling her great-grandchildren and working as an antiques dealer and interior designer.
In 2012, Lowenstein felt she needed to complete one unfinished task. She went back to school to get an art history degree. The seven-year quest included some ailments and a foggy memory at some points. Lowenstein turned 93 in April.
“I wanted to get my degree and it took time,” Lowenstein said during an interview this week on the balcony of her Midtown Atlanta home.
“It feels good. Very happy,” she said after the ceremony. “I don’t have to do any more essays.”
Georgia State University President Mark Becker commended Lowenstein for her “perseverance” in his remarks during Thursday’s commencement ceremony. Lowenstein received a standing ovation when she walked across the stage when each graduate’s name was called.
Lowenstein, who coyly said she did “very good,” graduated with honors. Her grade-point average was slightly above a 4.0, said Maria Gindhart, associate dean of the university’s College of the Arts. Georgia State’s grading scale includes A-plus.
Gindhart, who was Lowenstein’s professor in four classes, said of her former student, “She has this grit and grace in an amazing combination.”
A few graduates congratulated Lowenstein and took selfies with her. Lowenstein’s 11-year-old great-granddaughter, who came from Boulder, Colorado, for the ceremony, was among those impressed.
“It’s kind of cool,” said Lara Lenderman, a fifth grader. “Now I get to tell everyone my great-grandmother graduated from college at 93 years old.”
Lowenstein was born in Miami. She took three semesters of college courses at the University of Wisconsin but dropped out to be closer to her then-beau. Lowenstein moved to Atlanta in 1973 and built a career in the antiques business. Her late husband, Larry, a bon vivant public relations agent who had stories about encounters with stars such as Liz Taylor and died in 2006, was among those who told Joyce she should go back to school.
University System of Georgia officials went back to the year 2002, and their records show Lowenstein is the oldest graduate of any of the 26 schools the system oversees. In 1999, Georgia State said 93-year-old Ernest Welch earned his bachelor’s degree from the school. The university named its school of Art & Design after Welch, who died in 2009 at the age of 103. Lowenstein studied in that school.
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Stylish and sharp-witted, Lowenstein posed with her right hand on her hip as she tried on her black cap and gown for a photographer. She is a petite woman who walks with a cane and resembles the legendary actress Katharine Hepburn. Lowenstein wondered beforehand if her silver and black Michael Kors sneakers would clash with her cap and gown, which was black with blue trim. In her desire to look cool, she easily fits in with many of her younger classmates.
The adjustment to Georgia State, though, was daunting at times.
“But I liked it,” said Lowenstein.
Lowenstein never learned how to type, so her close friend, Barbara Domir, transcribed her notes. She recorded lectures on her iPad, and faculty gave Lowenstein extra time to take tests. She turned down some social activities to study.
“In order to do well, I had to concentrate.”
>> SEE MORE GSU GRADUATES | Photos: Spring 2019 Commencement
Lowenstein, who drove herself to school, enjoyed the classwork, except for the required math class. She enjoyed figuring out how to do a PowerPoint presentation. Lowenstein, whose home is filled with paintings, statues and masks she’s collected for decades, learned about different artists she knew little about during her studies.
“It took me all over the world” without leaving Atlanta, Lowenstein said of the courses.
Lowenstein’s parents graduated from high school, so completing college was important. In her own way, like many Georgia State students, she’s a first-generation graduate. Lowenstein planned lunch for the 15 relatives who came for Thursday’s ceremony.
The University System of Georgia allows residents 62 and older to take courses at little or no cost as long as they meet certain academic requirements. There were 366 Georgia State seniors in the program during the Fall 2017 semester.
Georgia State gave Lowenstein some credits for her life experience. She bought her first pieces of art, a small painting and a Dutch clock, when she was 20. Lowenstein made buying trips in the 1980s to Europe to bring back antiques for her Buckhead showrooms. Gindhart said she frequently shared personal experiences that elevated classroom discussions.
Gindhart said Lowenstein didn’t get special treatment from her.
“She did the work and earned the grades,” Gindhart said. “She wrote well and was engaged.”
Lowenstein was philosophical about grades.
“It’s what you learn and what’s going to stay with you and if it has any meaning,” she said.
Lowenstein said she plans to take a break from schoolwork, but she wants to take an online Fine Arts appraising course and get in that business.
She encourages anyone, regardless of their age, to pursue their degree.
One graduate agreed as she watched Lowenstein leave Thursday’s ceremony.
“If she can do it, anybody can do it, for real,” the younger graduate said to a classmate.
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