The Hub Muriel Macdonald: Age isn’t a barrier to learning goals
Transforming Lives: Learners at AU

Muriel Macdonald: Age isn’t a barrier to learning goals

By: Muriel Macdonald

Transforming Lives: Learners at AU is a testimonial series written by AU learners and alumni who want to share how AU helped shape their lives.

It’s a space for the people who have provided support and encouragement throughout their journey. It’s also a forum for sharing how AU is helping them achieve their educational goals and realize their future potential. Their stories are worth shouting from the rooftops! Have an inspiring story of your own to share? Email us! We’d love to hear it.

When I raised my children, I made sure they all attended post-secondary. I felt it important to instill in them that education is the one thing in life that you can earn and no one can take away. For myself, however, responsibilities of being a mom and earning a living took priority over my dream of completing a master’s degree.   

But then I found Athabasca University (AU)—an online, flexible program that gave me the opportunity to complete my degree while balancing my time between work, children, grandchildren, and fundraising to build homes for families who live in extreme poverty.  

I knew I would be 61 years old when I finished my Master of Arts – Interdisciplinary Studies degree. As an older student, it had been a long time since I had taken university courses, and I had a fear of failure. I recalled, in my previous studies, working on a university essay that was typed on an Underwood typewriter with erasable bond paper. I was determined to modernize—I turned to Google to learn how to author an essay and figured out what an abstract is. Online resources such as the Purdue OWL soon became my other bible.  

I viewed challenges as doorways to new experiences and finding solutions to unanswered questions. Let me tell you, there were many unanswered questions, especially with technology since my earlier experiences with the computer era were in 1976, when computers were the size of a room and used punch cards!  

At AU, I was terrified during the first couple of courses. I had to learn new programs and spend hours trying to figure out how to integrate music into a slide presentation. I asked questions of co-workers and AU staff, who graciously helped me with many queries.  

Muriel Macdonald on Graduation Day

My husband and my adult children respected and applauded my desire to return to school. They knew that I grew up in an era when women were expected to get their Mrs. as opposed to a university degree. When I finished my undergraduate degree in 1980, my birth family felt that my aspirationfor higher education were disgraceful. Their generation went through the Hungry Thirties and two world wars. Putting food on the table was their prime goal. Times have changed, but I am grateful that I learned their hard work ethic and applied it to life, including educational opportunities like this.  

“My husband and my adult children respected and applauded my desire to return to school. They knew that I grew up in an era when women were expected to get their “Mrs.” as opposed to a university degree. ”

– Muriel Macdonald

My degree opened a door to a job that I absolutely love. It allows me to apply my life experiences and my education to support mental health issues. I am now 65, still going strong and would not be in the happy position I am today—one that allows me to support others—if it wasn’t for AU.

It takes a community to raise a child, and a community of dedicated higher education staff to support a senior citizen along the educational path. I am grateful for that—so grateful that you would easily pick me out of my class’s convocation crowd. I was the 62-year-old who glided across the stage and yelled: “I did it!”  


Muriel Macdonald is a wife to Gary, mother of four girls and grandmother of five. For the past 21 years, she and her family have called the small town of Walkerton, Ontario home. Muriel loved her AU courses about climate change and global sustainability and was able to transfer working knowledge to her mission work in Guatemala where, in memory of her child, Mollyann, she built houses for families living in extreme poverty. Although her children are grown, the hallways of her home still ring with laughter because of the grandchildren and all of their friends. Muriel’s greatest joy is time spent with her grandchildren 
  • November 12, 2021
Guest Blog from:
Muriel Macdonald