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Graduating at Last: Staffer Earns Degree

by Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
posted May 13, 1998

Wendy Stephens, senior writer at Continuing Education of the Bar, received her master of journalism degree Saturday – 28 years after starting work on it.

“The older I get, the better I feel about myself,” says the ebullient 49-year-old.

Stephens and about 50 of her classmates heard Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam deliver their commencement address at Northgate Hall Courtyard May 9.

Like many other Berkeley staff, Stephens took advantage of the career employee tuition remissions benefit – 2/3 reduction of the university registration and education fee – to complete her degree.

Originally entering the J School in 1970, Stephens completed her MJ degree in 1974 but for one signature on her thesis. (She received a BA from SUNY Binghamton in 1968 at the age of 18.)

Then came a quarter century of work as a writer and editor for law firms and publishers, magazines, a computer catalog and a health plan.

In 1995 she started work at CEB’s marketing department, shortly after giving birth to her first child. She was 45. Last year she received an individual merit incentive award. Says Pam Feeney, her supervisor: “Wendy is enthusiastic, positive and practical. That’s a great combination in a worker.”

Says Stephens, “When I returned to UC, I thought, ‘I’m here, why don’t I finish that degree?’ I wanted my son to see me as a finisher, a winner, and I’d like him to go to Cal. Women should live up to their potential.”

Stephens had to do another thesis, so she chose a subject close to her heart – “Natural Late Bloomers: Older Women Having Babies Without Fertility Drugs.”

She conducted all the interviews and did the research and writing fall semester while working full-time and single parenting her 3-year-old son. In February she was invited to present her thesis at “Boundaries in Question: Designing Women,” a national academic conference on campus.

An agent is helping Stephens turn her thesis into a book, “The Older Woman’s Natural Fertility Cookbook: Recipes for Success.” It will tell the stories of 40 women over 35, revealing how they conceived without fertility drugs and sharing their experiences of becoming “older” mothers.

Stephens, who graduated Saturday under the name she started with in 1970, Schlesinger, says, “I couldn’t have accomplished this milestone without a daycare provider I could trust with my life.” Although her son stayed home, her daycare provider was there to applaud as Stephens marched to the podium to accept her master’s degree.

“I’ve been blessed,” says Stephens. “I’ve had some of the very best years of my life since I came back to campus. Berkeley is the best possible place in the universe to be; it’s a nexus for both high achievers and socially conscious people. Happiness is a warm son, a job at Cal and a master’s degree.”

Thirty-four Berkeley staff took classes during spring semester this year, thanks to tuition remission – 11 in undergraduate classes, 22 in graduate classes, and one in the evening MBA program, according to Pascale Roland, program assistant with Employee Development and Training. For information on tuition remission, call 642-8134, or email

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