Grandma Graduate

By Kristal Dixon Graduating from college has been a lifelong goal for Charlotte Czekala of Union…

Georgia (Aug 28, 2009) — By Kristal Dixon


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Graduating from college has been a lifelong goal for Charlotte Czekala of Union Hill.
And at 71 years young, Mrs. Czekala finally can call herself a college graduate.
Mrs. Czekala graduated this summer from Kennesaw State University with a bachelor's degree in world history. Her honors included magna cum laude with a grade point average of 3.86 and the Outstanding Student Award.
"It was a great experience for me," Mrs. Czekala said of earning her degree.
At the urging of a neighbor, Mrs. Czekala decided to explore returning to the classroom. A grandmother of five, Mrs. Czekala home-schooled her grandchildren.
"I got so interested in what they were learning," she said.
It wasn't Mrs. Czekala's first attempt at earning a higher degree. In 1956, she enrolled at Louisiana State University to study business and transferred to Auburn University in 1957 to study physical education.
Her path to a college degree was sidelined when she married her husband, Bob, at the age of 19.
Mrs. Czekala began her first day of classes on Aug. 27, 2002, and took between six and nine credit hours each semester.
"I only knew to go and take it one day at a time," she said.
Her choice of a major came naturally. A fan of history and traveling, Mrs. Czekala said she was eager to learn about the world and the places in it.
Her family also was supportive in her quest for a college education.
But returning to school at an older age did have its difficult moments.
Mrs. Czekala said she had to study twice as hard and long than her younger counterparts.
"It took extra effort to reinforce that stuff in my brain," she said, adding she earned all A's except for a B in Spanish and a B in an introductory psychology course.
To help remember information for exams, Mrs. Czekala used an association method she learned in a psychology class.
She said her background with sports also gave her a sense of discipline and perseverance, which helped her succeed in reaching her goal.
Few people Mrs. Czekala's age were on campus with her during her tenure.
According to Joe Head, dean of enrollment services for KSU, out of 21,449 students, 65 students age 60 or older were enrolled during the fall 2008 semester. In the fall of 2007, there were 72 out of total student population of 20,607. And out of 19,854 enrolled in fall 2006, there were 58.
While a student at KSU, Mrs. Czekala studied abroad in countries including Spain, Mexico, Russia, Belize and Italy.
"Being in the middle of all this history was amazing," she said.
Mrs. Czekala also left a great impression on her professors.
Elsa Nystrom, a history instructor at KSU, said Mrs. Czekala was a joyous student and enthusiastic about learning.
Ms. Nystrom had Mrs. Czekala in several courses, including a senior seminar on sports history.
Mrs. Czekala, an active swimmer and tennis player, seemed like a natural in the class, Ms. Nystrom said.
She said Mrs. Czekala's fellow students also looked to her for guidance.
"She is just a plain nice person, which helped her get along with everyone," she added.
Dr. Harold Trendell, associate geography professor, taught Mrs. Czekala in four classes: world regional geography, geography of North America, historical geography and geography of Europe.
Both the world regional geography and geography of North American courses were taken on the KSU campus. The historical geography course was taken while Mrs. Czekala participated in study abroad in Madrid, Spain, and the geography of Europe course was taken in Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy.
Trendell said Mrs. Czekala was a great student because "she insisted on knowing the historical context behind the geography I was presenting."
"Ms. Charlotte typifies the adage that life is what you make it," he said. "While she had trepidation about going back to school at the age of 64, her love of learning and her definitive goal to graduate with her degree kept her plugging away until she succeeded."
Mrs. Czekala was born in New Orleans and moved with her family to Atlanta when she was 16 years old.
She graduated in 1956 from the old Sacred Heart school. After she married her husband, she worked for Southern Bell and had two sons, Ken and Lance. The Czekalas have five grandchildren.
In 1961, her father began his company, Georgia Door & Plywood Service. In 1975, she and her husband took over the business after her father passed away.
While growing up, Mrs. Czekala loved playing sports. Her favorites include softball, volleyball, tennis and football.
Along with playing, Mrs. Czekala also gives tennis and swimming lessons.
Now that she's earned her degree, Mrs. Czekala said she is focused on enjoying life and spending time with her family. She is contemplating tutoring young children in the history field, but has not made a final decision.
Mrs. Czekala said she hopes her story will be an inspiration to other older adults who want to return to the classroom.
And she has advice for those older adults already enrolled.
"Don't give up," she said. "You can do it. Learning keeps you young. Never stop learning."


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit