Heidi Cowell and her grandson Carter Cowell are both class of 2019 graduates who recently earned their diplomas from North Cottage. (Photo contributed)

Red Deer grandmother returns to school to graduate 47 years later

Diploma and a new career

Graduating from high school at age 64 opened a Red Deer grandmother up to a new career and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to receive her diploma alongside her graduating grandson.

Heidi Cowell and her grandson Carter Cowell, 18, both graduated from North Cottage, an alternative high school program at Red Deer Public Schools last week.

Heidi said when her two children attended high school, it reminded her how much she regretted not finishing her studies.

She was scheduled to graduate in 1972, but dropped out in May of her graduating year after getting engaged a few months earlier. She got married that summer.

Last year, staff at Carter’s school heard about her aspirations and encouraged her to enrol.

Heidi said she was nervous to go back to class, but the students at North Cottage became family.

“They just opened their arms and their hearts. There was just no age barrier. We just melded together and had a good time and encouraged each other and helped each other,” Heidi said.

Homework was exactly how she remembered, but this time, she did it, she said with a laugh.

“I had a completely different attitude than I used to have. I took it much more seriously and worked harder. I’ve lived enough to know the importance.

“I just got this thirst for learning. When you’re given that opportunity, just use it to the fullest.”

She enrolled in summer school in 2018. In September, she started classes at North Cottage.

Heidi took more classes than required to graduate and is now finishing an online course to become an educational assistant. She has been hired as a substitute educational assistant at Red Deer Public Schools.

“Most people are thinking of retiring at 65, and I’m going back to work in a whole new career that I never thought I would, so I’m really excited about it,” said Heidi, who previously worked in management positions for a video store.


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Heidi said she couldn’t have asked for better support from her two children, three grandchildren and husband.

“I questioned whether I had the ability at my age to remember things. You’ve got deadlines again. You’ve got tests. Tests fill me with dread. I just panic at the thought of them.”

Heidi wants others contemplating trying something new or scary to not let anything hold them back.

“Go for whatever it is. I don’t care what your it is — to learn a language, or if your it is to learn how to drive a car, or go for a walk every day, to go back to school, to go to college.

“Just go after your it,because you don’t know where it’s going to take you, and you don’t know what experiences you might miss out on just because you think you can’t do it.”


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