She studied hard. She passed her tests. And soon, Linda Kornfeld will walk across the graduation stage at the University of Denver.

But this college senior has a little more life experience than most of the class of 2018, including her own granddaughter.

“I used to always wish my grandchildren good luck before their finals, now they’re wishing it to me!” said 78-year-old Denverite Linda Kornfeld.

Kornfeld first enrolled at DU in the 1950s. At the time she wanted to study international relations. But the plan got sidetracked when she met a young man and fell in love. The two got married, moved away and started a family. Today, she has five grandchildren.

“We had a magical life, a magical marriage,” Kornfeld said. “We were very busy doing things together, of which school was not one.”

Her husband has since passed away, and the grandchildren are getting older. It was the grandkids, in fact, who inspired Kornfeld to return to school.

Her two oldest granddaughters graduated from East High School in Denver, and those graduation ceremonies took place on DU’s campus.

“The first granddaughter, [I thought], look at how lucky she is going on to college, I wish I would have graduated,” Kornfeld said. “Two years later, Izzi, my second granddaughter, was graduating and I thought – you know, it’s never too late.”

When Izzi Kornfeld enrolled at the University of Virginia, her grandmother re-enrolled at DU.

Linda Kornfeld hugs her granddaughter, Izzi Kornfeld, at Izzi's graduation from the University of Virginia
Linda Kornfeld hugs her granddaughter, Izzi Kornfeld, at Izzi's graduation from the University of Virginia

This time Linda decided to study sociology. She says she wasn’t nervous about returning to school, but she was concerned what other students might think of her in the classroom.

“I’m sure when they walked in and saw me for the first time they were thinking – what is she doing here?” she laughed.

Kornfeld credits the students and faculty with being warm and welcoming. She said she was grateful when her fellow classmates picked her to partner for projects, and she was happy to share her class notes when asked.

“I made me realize in their eyes, I was no different,” she said.

Kornfeld said the most difficult part of returning to college decades after she started was learning the technology. She credits her family, including the grandchildren, with helping her learn computer and internet skills the modern day college student uses every day.

She said her grandchildren also offered advice for studying and would call to wish her luck before important tests.

“We definitely had some good conversations about using Word documents and Google documents,” said Izzi Kornfeld, Linda’s granddaughter studying at UVA. “Years later, now that she’s finished, she’s a whiz on Word. She knows how to get online and do all these cool things on the internet.”

Linda Kornfeld started by taking one class every other quarter until Izzi called and encouraged her speed up the timeline. That way, the two could graduate together in 2018. Linda agreed it would be special to share the journey together.

“I really touched that she wanted to do this with me,” Izzi said. “Just getting to study for your midterms with your grandma, not many people get to say they get to do that. It was really fun being able to have these parallel but different experiences.”

Izzi graduated from UVA last weekend. She’ll be home in a few days to help her grandmother celebrate, too. Linda Kornfeld will walk across the stage at DU’s ceremony on June 9th. The two are planning a joint graduation party with family and friends.

Kornfeld hopes her story inspires young people to follow their dreams, no matter how late the opportunity arrives.

“This was a dream I held since I was 20,” she said. “I’m in my late 70s and I fulfilled this dream. Now the only sadness I have is – I’m graduating. I, like many graduates, wish I wasn’t!”