Meet SJU Student Mary Palazzola

The 75-year-old student plans to receive her degree by the winter of 2018



Mary Palazzola, liberal arts major, reviews her notes in the library

Isabella Bruni, News Editor

Picture this — two St. John’s University students are sitting at a picnic table in front of St. Augustine Hall complaining about how they forgetfully left their StormCards at home and now can’t print their homework from a wepa kiosk. It’s a quintessential St. John’s student conversation and nothing out of the ordinary — but it might be surprising to learn that one of those two students is 75-years-old. 

That was the scene when the same soon-to-be 76-year-old, Mary Palazzola, shared her unique undergraduate story with the Torch.

“It’s been such a wonderful experience,” Palazzola said of her experience being a student at St. John’s. “I can’t tell you of one ill experience. I come home and tell my husband and children about all the lovely people I met from different countries and how nice they’ve been to me.”

Palazzola worked for the University for 23 years as an office worker and retired in 2010 —  part of her retirement gift was the opportunity to receive an undergraduate degree. Palazzola planned on going back to school with coworkers but she was the only one who actually grabbed ahold of the chance to get that degree.

She is majoring in liberal arts and after taking 21 credits in theology, just because she was enjoying learning about new religions, declared it as a minor.

“Have you heard of a religion called ‘zoroastrianism?’ Because I hadn’t, it’s so interesting to learn other religions besides Christianity,” she said.

The Bayside resident has not let her age hold her back from doing much and getting an undergraduate education is one of them. She said, “I have a competitive nature about doing things, I want to do them right.”

She said people are usually surprised to discover she is a student rather than an employee of the university. She shares the same age with many professors at St. John’s and talked about a funny experience related to her age with an English professor her very first semester when she was still reluctant to continue with classes.

“He asked one of question in class what everyone’s favorite movie was and I said ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and he said, ‘oh that’s my mother’s favorite movie,’” Palazzola said. “That’s when I said this is it, I’m going to go to school.”

Palazzola has been taking classes since 2010 at a three and six-credit pace and plans to graduate in the fall of 2018 and walk with the class of 2019 next spring. She could have graduated sooner, but said she doesn’t want to take the spotlight away from one of her grandsons graduating this year.

However, Palazzola made it clear she has her sights set on graduating. One summer at a party in Westhampton, Palazzola said she had a bit of a health scare after a small wave knocked her over and caused a minor concussion.

“You know the only thing that bothered me? I have to graduate,” she exclaimed with laughter.

Palazzola did admit that with her age comes some setbacks technology-wise, Blackboard and PowerPoint specifically. Many people have helped her out where she lacked a bit of that knowledge, she’s had a professor stay with her after class to teach her PowerPoint and classmates constantly give her Blackboard tips.

“As senior citizen’s we have to know a few more things than just working a microwave,” she joked.

Palazzola raved about how much of a privilege it is for her to be here and said she owes a lot to St. John’s, not just because it has given her the chance to receive an education, but also because five of her seven kids have come to St. John’s as well.

A professor once asked her what her academic goal was and her answer is a little different than what most 20-year-olds would say.

“To get an undergrad degree, that’s what I want. And why am I doing it? To keep this going,” she said while pointing to her head. “It’s good for you to learn new things and have something to do everyday. I go to the library, I look up things, I love it.”

My girlfriend has Alzheimer’s and it’s a fearful thing. There’s so many things you can do as as a senior citizen and when I do get my degree I’m going to volunteer. I’ll work at Friday kitchens for the homeless and hold babies at the hospitals for nurturing if my health keeps up.”

Palazzola wanted to give some advice to people who are a little older and want to go back to school but are reluctant, “If you have the opportunity and you’re able to to and you can get here everyday you should.”

She also joked that she would never settle for a B+.