Berkeley’s most senior junior

By Bonnie Azab Powell, Public Affairs


Patricia Kinman on the Sproul Hall steps
Bonnie Powell photo

11 September 2002 | When Patricia Kinman graduated from her Hayward high school, she wanted to attend UC Berkeley “more than anything,” she says. But financial constraints compelled her to take a government scholarship and become a nurse instead.

That was in 1945. Almost six decades later, this 75-year-young Berkeley student is finally living out her dream.

“If something’s ‘impossible,’ that just means it takes a little longer,” she smiles.

Kinman should be a role model for determination. She started work on her associate in arts degree at Chabot College in January 1973. A little busy with raising five sons and three daughters and returning at 51 to the workforce as an RN, she didn’t complete the degree until June 1999. “I took whatever classes I could handle when I could handle them,” she shrugs.

She first applied to Berkeley back that same year and was crushed when she didn’t get in. Last year she learned about Berkeley’s Re-entry Student Program for mature students from a Chabot counselor, who convinced her to apply again.

“When the acceptance letter came, I was so nervous that I didn’t open it for three days,” she says. “It’s just unbelievable to me that I’m here. It was something I never thought I would be able to do.”

This time, she plans to finish her degree a bit faster. Kinman drives up from her home in Castro Valley on Tuesdays and Thursdays for courses in Shakespeare, folklore, and education. “I picked things that sounded interesting to me,” she explains. “I won’t say I used a dartboard, but close.” And while she’s considered to have junior standing, don’t ask her about her major: “I’ve gone through three in my head, and it’s only the second week of school.”

Even with her backpack weighed down by newly purchased books, the spry Kinman can easily outpace a younger companion on a hill. Asked if she plans to join the Rec Center, she fires back, “Joining Cal is exercise enough. I had to park way past the stadium today.”

Kinman is not the oldest student Berkeley has had on record. That distinction belongs to Mona Freye, who was 79 when she graduated in 1992. However, Kinman’s mature looks have
garnered their share of attention from her fellow classmates. “They come up and ask, ‘Are you a student?’ When I tell them yes, they say ‘Cool!’” she recounts happily. “I like that.”

Students, Kinman observes, haven’t changed much from decade to decade except in the little things, like “what they wear, what color their hair is, and what they use for earrings.” Her younger classmates have always been pretty serious, goal-oriented, and accepting, she says.

Much like Kinman herself, wisecracks notwithstanding. The only area in which she admits to feeling like a grandmother is the technological. She has a computer at home and knows “how to turn it on, but not much else,” although she does use it to write papers. She has never been on the Internet. “I’m going to try it soon,” she stalls. “My kids say it can be a big time-waster.”

Kinman’s children — including her son Kevin, who graduated from Cal with a degree in environmental design — are supportive, if somewhat baffled about her decision to go back for her bachelor’s degree. “They can’t understand why I want to work so hard,” she says.

When pressed, she’s not sure exactly why, either. “Maybe I want to be known for something besides being a mom,” she says. “I love learning new things, and besides, it keeps me from calling my kids too much.”

She also wants to appreciate how hard her children worked. Six have graduated from college and a couple are doctors, she reports. “But most of all, they’re fine human beings,” she says with pride.


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Copyright 2002, The Regents of the University of California.
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