Elly Pollan worked 20 years as an accountant and raised five children with her husband in New York state. She’s been a staunch advocate for education, but one achievement — a college degree — seemed out of her reach.
Now 92 and living at Lasell Village in Newton, she finally reached that goal on May 14. After taking college classes for more than a decade, she was awarded an associate’s degree in liberal studies during Lasell University’s commencement.
The Bronx native credits her children, who pulled together her educational records — some going back to the 1940s — and asked university officials to determine if she met the criteria for a degree. They agreed she did.
“I never really thought it was a possibility,” Pollan said. “I was so surprised, I was very happy they had done it ... it meant a lot, actually.”
As a young woman, Pollan dreamed of being an archeologist and studied at New York University. Later, as a mother in her 30s, she returned to school for an accounting degree at Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus.
But both times, family obligations led her to postpone those educational efforts.
“I tear up when I talk about it, but she’s so well read, so well educated, but [a degree] was something that slipped away,” said her son, Cliff Pollan of Wellesley. “It wasn’t something she voiced, but I spoke to my siblings, and said, ‘I just think it would mean something to her.’ "
Pollan’s husband died in 2007, and she moved to Newton from Long Island three years later.
Pollan — who has six grandchildren and is a great-grandmother to four -— said in an interview a few days before commencement that she was drawn by Lasell Village’s educational opportunities.
“I came here because that is what I was interested in — I wanted to continue my education,” Pollan said. “It’s wonderful, actually. It keeps you alive, and keeps you interested.”
Lasell Village, a senior living community that shares its campus with the university, encourages residents to take classes in order to fulfill a requirement of completing at least 450 hours of learning and fitness activities each year, according to the university.
Over the past 12 years, Pollan has taken an average of three classes each semester, according to university spokesman Ian Meropol. That includes courses in the spring, summer, and fall.
University officials reviewed Pollan’s academic records and decided that “it was more than evident” Pollan had earned her associate’s degree, according to Meropol. It’s also the first degree of its kind.
“Lasell University has never bestowed a degree to a Lasell Village resident before,” he said.
Pollan said she has developed a love for sculpture during her time at Lasell, and named a class where students created self-portraits as a favorite. She’s taken courses on a range of subjects — among them poetry, ceramics, and on China — and learned to paint.
“I liked doing it, I liked creating, I liked seeing I could do it,” she said of putting brush to canvas. “I never thought I could do it. It was fun.”
Pollan, who is also active on local committees at Lasell Village, has no plans to stop learning. She’s currently studying a course catalog for the summer semester at Lasell — so far, she’s eyeing a class on painting, and another on the economy.
“I was always interested in learning things, and that’s what I pursued when I came here,” she said. “It made the 12 years fly by. "
During Lasell’s undergraduate commencement, Pollan received a personal tribute from Provost Eric Turner.
During her lifetime of studies, she fell in love with art, and pursued ceramics at Lasell, he said during the ceremony. She studied literature, philosophy, and economics.
“She has an analytical and artistic mind, combining that [with] accounting and art, and a curiosity about everything,” Turner said. “Always seeking classes in things she doesn’t know about, Elly is a true lifelong learner.”
When Pollan came to the stage to receive her degree, she grinned as the assembled graduates stood up and cheered.
Cliff Pollan, in an interview a few days before the ceremony, choked up slightly as he described his feelings about his mother’s achievement.
“I am overjoyed for her. It’s been so long in coming, and she deserves the recognition,” he said. “She stood for all our graduations.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.