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Catalina Cuarezma: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Juana Catalina Cuarezma turns 70 years old on May 1. Sixteen days later, she will graduate from Middlesex County College. She started taking courses in 2009, and took one class per semester.

“I was not in a hurry,” she said with a grin.

Ms. Cuarezma, who goes by her middle name, started working as a human resources associate for the United Nations in her native country of Nicaragua in 1979. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Central American University in 1982 and moved to the United States two years later.

But the United Nations Human Resources operation was transferred to Denmark in 2007. Ms. Cuarezma could have gone along, but she had a son in the United States, as well as a condo, and she wanted to stay. So she took an early retirement.

What to do now?

Her colleagues told her she needed to keep busy to avoid boredom. A gym and pool were five minutes from her house. She took spinning classes and swim lessons.

“But I realized the gym was not enough,” she said.

One day, she spied some literature from Middlesex County College. Her son had attended an open house in 2002, and she came across it seven years later. She took a couple of ESL classes to improve her English and then started credit courses. At first, she took classes only on Saturdays, as she was working temp jobs during the week. But she then moved into weekday evening classes, and then afternoon ones.

“Since I retired, my time is spent at the gym and at Middlesex,” she said. “The gym helped keep my body fit and Middlesex helped keep my mind sharp.”

Indeed. Ms. Cuarezma boasts a 3.7 grade point average and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges, and Alpha Mu Gamma, the national honor society for foreign languages. She studied French.

“I was very happy with the classes,” she said. “Middlesex was a really nice experience for me. I especially enjoyed French Professors Brenda Cavanaugh and Shannon Osborn-Jones.”

This is not the end of Ms. Cuarezma’s academic career. Even though she’s graduating, she plans to continue to take classes at MCC.

“My nephew graduated from MCC and said he was glad I was doing it, but wanted me to realize I’ll be in class with a lot of teenagers,” she said. “But I was comfortable in class with them. A few times – at the beginning of the first class – they would see my gray hair and say, ‘Are you our professor?’ I said, ‘No, but I could be your mother. I have a son older than you.’”