Harriet Lloyd Hill, 65, feels accomplishment and relief -- at finishing something she started 46 years ago: her college education.
"It was always in my mind to go back to school," she said, adding that she's particularly happy that her 96-year-old father, Thomas Lloyd, can see her graduate from the University of the District of Columbia on Saturday.
I'm glad to enjoy her graduation now, as I would have 45 years ago," Lloyd said. "I'm right behind her."
Lloyd may have been something of an inspiration for his daughter. He retired just three years ago from his real estate business. After graduating from college and serving in World War I, he moved from North Carolina to Washington in 1919 to teach school. But because "the salary was only about $100 a month, he decided to work for himself," his daughter said. Lloyd's jobs included working in a wholesale fruit business, driving a cab and cutting hair in a barbershop before he started selling real estate at age 60.
His daughter enrolled at UDC at age 61, and plans to begin work on her master's degree this summer.
Hill, a mother of seven who lives in Northeast Washington, graduated from Dunbar High School in 1939, then went to Bennett College in North Carolina to study home economics and early childhood development. But after a year she came back to Washington, married a serviceman and traveled with him to bases in Arizona, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and California.
Eventually they returned to Washington and she enrolled at Howard University. But she could not maintain the academic schedule. "I had two children at the time. I just couldn't do it," she said.
For five years Hill ran a day care center in her house; then in 1957 she went to work for the District government, maintaining statistics in the Department of Human Resources. In 1961, she was divorced.
Hill stayed with the District government until 1980, when "[ Mayor Marion]Barry abolished my job. And every time I see him, I tell him about it," she said with a laugh.
With her new-found free time, she became a Red Cross volunteer, driving senior citizens to errands and doctors' appointments. "They invariably would ask for direction on things pertaining to money, and on all sorts of things," she said. But without training, Hill said, "I couldn't help them."
But she wanted to be of help to senior citizens, and so in 1982 she decided to pursue a degree in leisure studies, with a concentration in gerontology, at UDC.
She said she's made friends with a lot of UDC's young students. "I usually talk to young people like they were my own," she said. "Some thought that they were in high school, and I would take it upon myself to straighten them out," she said with a smile. "And a lot of them call me 'Mom.' "
Her curriculum has included practical experience: 10 months of working with senior citizens confined to wheelchairs at D.C. Village, the city-run home for the elderly. Hill led the group in stretching their arms and building upper body strength. "At the end of the program, one woman could comb her hair, and one or two were able to feed themselves," Hill said. "It may not sound like much," but to the disabled senior citizens, these were major achievements, she said.
Dr. David Haber, research director at UDC's Institute of Gerontology, noted that Hill was able to spread enthusiasm for the program among participants and staff. "She's spunky, talkative, fun and ambitious," Haber said.
Hill said she hopes that while studying for her master's degree in counseling she will find a part-time job as social director or recreation specialist in a senior citizens residence or day care center.
She has worked through college as a receptionist at UDC's tutorial center and studied about four hours daily. "I was used to working two 8-hour jobs" throughout her life, to support herself and her six sons and daughter, she said. Six of her children went to college; the seventh opted for trade school.
"If it was legal, I've done it," she said. Along with grocery store and fast-food experience, she has operated H.H. Tours, escorting groups both in the United States and abroad. Her next trip will be to California, where three of her children live; her son Doug has given her the air fare as a graduation gift. The highlight of the journey, Hill said, will be her first visit with a granddaughter born five months ago.
At the senior class dinner dance last Friday, the class presented Hill, their oldest member, with a music box. The next night the class had a cruise in Baltimore, and the young men did not neglect their older classmate. "I danced with them, and they'd come and kiss me," she said.
College, Hill said, has been a great experience. "It's just something I always wanted," she said, "and though it's taken 46 years, I owed it to myself."