Loney Sparrow Jr.
Sparrow has been through a lot in his 61 years. After he got out of the military in the early 1970s, he found a job at General Electric. But in the late ’80s, GE closed plants in Everett and Medford and reduced its workforce in Lynn. Laid off, Sparrow went back to school to become a kind of all-in-one medical technician. “I did phlebotomy, certified nursing assistant, technical nursing assistant, EKG, first responder, and medical terminology,” the Chelsea resident says. “I put together a group of skills for what I saw as a need in the medical world, to provide services to outpatients.”
Sparrow made a good second career, but then life knocked him down again. In 2005, after battling cancer for many years, his wife died, leaving behind him and their son. “For personal needs,” Sparrow says, “it was better for me to take care of the home front.” All of his certifications lapsed.
Sparrow lived off his retirement savings for a while, but last year he enrolled in the Allied Health program at Bunker Hill Community College to become a certified nursing assistant. Though he says he’s “an old dog in a young world,” he appreciates the opportunity to connect with young people and his teacher’s respect for his life experience.
Sparrow’s not sure in what field of medicine he’ll find a job when he graduates this spring, but he knows he’ll find one. “A true champion gets knocked down, gets beaten sometimes,” he says. “But the true character of champions is how they get up off the floor, dust themselves off, and present themselves to the task. I’ve been doing it all my life.”
Voskuil likes to stay busy. A homemaker and violinist in her 40s who lives in Harvard Square, she studied in Taiwan while she was in college, then spent a year teaching English in Japan, but lost her fluency in Asian languages after she married and had children. Following her 2007 divorce, she found herself “suddenly wondering what to do.”
Enter the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, where Voskuil has taken a number of classes, including tai chi, swing dancing, and copy editing, but has concentrated on Mandarin Chinese. Becoming a student again is “helping me to forge some direction,” she says, and the once-a-week lessons dovetail with her life. “I can fit this in again. It doesn’t have to be the way it was when I was a student. There’s not the same pressure.”
Voskuil knows speaking Chinese will be a valuable skill in this new global economy, but she isn’t limiting herself just yet. She may return to Asia when her children are older or look for work as a cultural liaison or in tourism closer to home. Many tourists in Cambridge are Chinese, she says, noting that the visitors are “amazed” at Americans trying to learn their language. “We study language because we want to talk to other people, to connect with people from other cultures,” Voskuil says. “It can’t just be for business reasons.”
Loring never was a big fan of classrooms, but she did what she thought was right in 1990 and went straight from high school to college. She spent four years studying fine arts at Eastern Connecticut State University, only to find “school really wasn’t for me,” she says. “In the end, I somehow managed to still be a year and a half behind, and I never got the degree.”
But when the Salem resident enrolled in ITT Technical Institute two years ago at age 38, something had changed. “Once I got the hands-on experience and the attention from teachers, I loved going to school,” she says. She graduated in December with an associate’s degree in computer drafting and design and a 3.9 grade-point average.
Loring says she may even go back someday for her bachelor’s degree, but she isn’t in any hurry. In January, she got a job helping design parking garages for Walker Parking Consultants in Boston. “Most people would say: ‘A parking garage? It’s kind of boring,’ ” she says. “But really it isn’t. It’s an art. To have something new come across the table makes me want to get up and go to work every day. Everything’s very exciting, everything’s new. Life’s good right now.”
Anderson, a labor attorney, is no stranger to the rigors of the spotlight, especially when he’s trying to persuade federal judges that workers have rights and corporations don’t. “The pressure that comes from trying to raise your voice against established order is so great that usually it ends up constricting your voice,” says Anderson, a 49-year-old Somerville resident. “All that is left is this little whiny, complaining register: ‘But, Your Honor, it’s not fair, and we deserve a few more crumbs from the table!’ ”
Anderson, however, has found a unique way to fight that phenomenon while also cultivating his interest in spoken-word performance and storytelling: A class called Shakespeare Workout! from the Actors’ Shakespeare Project (whose founder I work with on other theater projects). Anderson’s breakthrough came a couple of years ago, when he was reciting the fanciful Queen Mab speech delivered by Romeo’s hotheaded friend, Mercutio. “The role I’m expected to play as a middle-aged professional is sort of the opposite of Mercutio,” he says. “In the final performance, I was incandescent – it was like having a manic experience. That was the most liberating monologue I’d ever done.”
Liberation is at the core of what Anderson seeks, and finds, in bringing his Shakespeare studies to his day job spent demanding justice for his clients. “Doing Shakespeare and learning to open your voice and speak with iambic fury is great therapy,” he says.
– Robin Abrahams