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Lifelong learning in program for elderly

Michael and Catherine Graziano speak with Marion Lowenthal,

Michael and Catherine Graziano speak with Marion Lowenthal, Director of special programs at Molloy College. (May 29, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

Catherine Graziano is 88, and her husband, Michael, is 93, but for them you're never too old to learn.

Once a week they attend a three-hour session at Molloy College's Institute for Lifelong Learning, a program for elderly people that aims to keep them intellectually stimulated through talks by professors and specialists on everything from the writings of Edgar Allan Poe to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge to the history of New Zealand.

The couple has more reason to cherish the program: they met there in 2000, and married three years later.

"It is possible to live a long and fruitful life," Catherine Graziano said. "But you have to keep busy and interested in all aspects of life."

The Grazianos are among 260 people, most of them retirees, who take part in the institute, which is marking its 20th anniversary as part of the Rockville Centre college. Its director, Marion Lowenthal, said it was one of the first such programs sponsored by a college or university when it began in 1992, and that it has steadily grown in popularity.

The program "was a dream of mine for many years," Lowenthal said Tuesday. It's a way to give older people "a taste of college. They ask interesting questions and they're absorbed and they are there because they want to be."

Participants also are allowed to audit regular classes at Molloy, and about one-fourth -- the Grazianos among them -- do so, Lowenthal said. The Grazianos said they regularly take classes, sitting alongside students who could be their grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

"All the kids look at us, wondering what we are doing" in class, Catherine Graziano said. But, her husband chimed in, after the first week or two "they don't even know we are there."

Lowenthal said many professors like it when institute participants enroll in their classes because many are not shy about asking questions. They also bring insights drawn from their life experiences, she said.

"They're open to learning just about anything," said Brian Quinn, a professor of literature and writing at Alfred State College in southwestern New York, who lives in Rockville Centre and often lectures at the institute. "I think they are more thoughtful than college students" in part "because they are not preoccupied with girlfriends, boyfriends and beer."

The program, which runs from September to early June, costs $395 per person a year, or $750 for couples. It has one group of about 100 people who meet every Tuesday, and another of the same size that meets on Fridays. A third group of about 60 meets at the college's Suffolk Center, a new satellite campus in Farmingdale near Republic Airport.

One Molloy student, Bree Adams, 18, of West Farmington, Ohio, said she enjoys having institute participants in her regular classes because they liven up discussions. "They ask more questions than the students," she said.

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