By Pat Sabiston; Photos by Katie DeSantis
Don’t let septuagenarian Sandra Wilson’s gentle demeanor mislead you. Appearing gentle worked very much to her advantage when she recently graduated from law school. Yes, you read correctly—at seventy years old, this intrepid woman earned her law degree.
“I was the oldest person in class and, when the youngest male student was pitted against me in negotiation training, he always gave in, because he said he just couldn’t be mean to me,” Sandra said laughing.
In that case, age worked to Sandra’s advantage, but there’s another character trait that helped her as well: Persistence. She always loved the classroom and never let life get in her way. During the years from 1961-2009, in between raising children, she took classes sporadically at Gulf Coast State College (formerly Gulf Coast Community College) and attended Florida State University/Panama City Campus, where she eventually graduated in 2009; followed by Faulkner University/ Jones School of Law, graduating in May 2013. All the while, Sandra and husband Steve raised three children and operated their family-owned funeral home.
Sandra’s family always supported her dreams, yet son Steve once asked: “Mom, why are you doing all this course work? If you want your obituary to look good, I’ll just say you went to Harvard!” Sandra smiled at the teasing reference to the “family business.”
Sandra always thought she would be an educator. “As I was getting to the end of my Bachelor’s program, some of my classmates talked about going to law school. I said to my husband, ‘I wish I could do that,’ and he surprised me by saying, ‘Well, if you want to do that, now is the time.’ Then, he really began to push me, but I didn’t even know how to apply!” she laughed. “I gathered all the information together, and Steve drove me all over to look at law schools, which was an adventure in itself! There were a few times I wanted to say, ‘I really wasn’t serious,’ but at that point, I was too invested!”
Steve was always her main source of support. “Once I settled on Faulkner, he took me to Montgomery to find an apartment and, due to my work load, he came to visit more than I came home. It was actually the first time I’d ever lived away from home, since I’d left my parents at twenty years old to move in with my husband, so I’d never been completely alone until then. At first, I was frightened of driving on the Interstate and learning new technology, but every challenge I faced I met head-on and conquered my fear. By the time I left law school, I actually preferred to hop on the Interstate rather than using side roads,” she said.
When asked what she thought was the most important thing a person could do in their later years, she was quick to respond. “I believe people need to exercise their brains and bodies, because I feel the fact that I stayed healthy while in law school was important. You must keep your brain active by reading, doing word games, and exercising. People in their senior years have a lot to offer. We’re experienced in so many areas and don’t need to just quit. In fact, I’m looking for work right now and would love to do research, work on adoptions, or handle the legal needs of children.”
It’s a sure thing that anything Sandra Wilson sets her mind to do can be considered as done.
“I don’t feel like quitting . If I’m not working, I’ll write about my experience. With God’s help, I’ll be doing something until the very day I die.”
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