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Forest Hills grandma earns college degree

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At times Ada Sayetta, 85, felt uncomfortable sitting in classes with students the age of her grandchildren, but she persevered and her efforts paid of last Thursday when she received her Queens College diploma and two standing ovations.

"I wanted a diploma because I didn't think I could do it - I didn't have such a high esteem of myself," said Sayetta of Forest Hills, who began working toward her degree in interdisciplinary studies in 1978. "I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of it."

Sayetta enrolled in Queens College's special Adult Collegiate Education program, a program that caters to people over 25 by providing evening and day classes at relatively low prices. ACE graduates had their graduation ceremony last Thursday.

"I never liked school that much, but I thought I would like something to do with my time," said Sayetta, whose two children were grown by the time she decided to go back to school. "Here I was wanting to go back to where I didn't like it. I had to test myself to see how I would react now."

Sayetta said she found college to be considerably different from her experience in school when she was a young girl.

"When I went back and saw the kids smoking cigarettes and calling teachers by their first name, that was foreign to me," she said.

But despite her discomfort, Sayetta made friends with some of her classmates, hosting study groups for philosophy class in her apartment on Yellowstone Boulevard, during which her husband, who died four years ago, would buy everyone ice-cream cones.

"I'm still friends with them, and here I am like their mothers," said Sayetta.

In the beginning, Sayetta took several classes at a time. Later, after the cost of one credit increased from $25 to $125, Sayetta took one class at a time, partly due to financial reasons. She hoped to graduate with her grandchildren, who are now 30 and 27 years old, but didn't make it on time.

"Now she's graduated in 2003 and it's a holiday here," said her daughter, Ann Sayetta. "Everybody's here. Her children are here, her granddaughter's here."

Sayetta's favorite classes included philosophy and her final class, art, where she was asked to draw pictures of her childhood, wedding, grandmother and husband. Some of the drawings are now on display in the art building at Queens College.

"The professor was so creative," said Sayetta. "This last class was the perfect one to be last."

While attending school, Sayetta continued to work occasionally at Bee Zee Hosiery in Brooklyn, the first and only place she was ever employed since graduating from high school. She also attended a mental health group called Recovery Incorporated at which she now volunteers, leading discussion groups once a week at North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital in Forest Hills.

"What I would say to anyone is you are special, you have something unique to offer the world," said Sayetta." I think truly I found out who I am by going to school, and how much each human being has to offer for the common good."

With her diploma ready to be hung, Sayetta said she is wondering what to do next and is toying with the idea of writing a book about her experiences.

But Sayetta's family said it's time for the graduate to go out and find work.

"Go get a job or go to graduate school - that's what she told me," said Sayetta's daughter, Ann.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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