78-year old’s ready for job

05/27/2010 12:00 AM |

Virginia Feder, 78, of Southold gives a thumbs-up after receiving her master’s degree in social work from Stony Brook University last Friday. She’s ready to hit the pavement in search of a job as a therapist.

Therapist seeks part-time job on the Eastern Long Island. Recent MSW from Stony Brook University.

At 78, Virginia Feder of Southold was the oldest graduate in her Stony Brook class on Friday and now she’s ready to make the most of her new credentials — a master’s degree in social work. Ideally, she would like to work about 18 hours a week and doesn’t need benefits, she said at her home Thursday.

Two of her brothers — one from Texas and the other from Arizona — flew into town for the weekend celebration that was to include a party for about 40 people last Saturday. “I wanted my family to meet my friends because they think of me as their poor little sister all alone up here,” she said.

She’ll spend the summer preparing for her licensing exam, but still wants any prospective employer to know that she can go to work immediately on a provisional license.

Ms. Feder’s story is one of a high school dropout who wanted to experience the world before she settled down. Perhaps it was a wanderlust born of her upbringing — she is the daughter of missionaries, who raised and home-schooled her in Nigeria, and didn’t return with her to the United States until she was 18.

“High school — who needs it” was her attitude, she said, and she went to live in Paris, where she pursued a career in modeling for a year and supported herself, when necessary, waitressing and even working in a coin-operated laundromat.

When she returned to the United States, she took a high school equivalency course and enrolled as an undergraduate at City College in New York. She got her bachelor’s degree there in the 1960s, she said — she was unsure of the exact year — and eventually pursued a career as a special education teacher in the South Bronx. She also married, raised two sons, divorced, and “a long time ago” retired to Florida.

But the North Fork “was always the place of my heart,” Ms. Feder said. She and her husband had bought a house near Town Beach as a summer home. She kept it, and when she decided that retirement in Florida wasn’t for her, it was to the cottage she returned some years ago.

“This was my time to do what I wanted,” she said.

She began contemplating what to do with the rest of her life and hit upon two options: Get a master’s degree and seek a career as a therapist — something she always had wanted to do, she said — or join the Peace Corps and return to Africa. She wasn’t confident the university would want a retired schoolteacher as a student, but she was wrong. Commuting to classes with a friend from Peconic Landing — “We held each other up when we wanted to quit,” she said — she spent two years taking courses as a non-matriculating student. When she reached the point at which she either had to apply for admission or quit, apply she did.

“I thought I would never pass statistics,” Ms. Feder said about her initial stab at the coursework. In fact, she went to her adviser during her first semester to inform him that she was failing; he told her to find a teacher who was skilled in working with math-phobic students.

“I got an A in the course,” she said. “It ended up being my favorite course at Stony Brook.” In fact, the lowest grade she ever got during her master’s degree studies was a B-plus and there was only one of those. There also was one A-minus. The rest of her grades were all As.

“It was very growth-producing for me to have a B-plus and live with it,” Ms. Feder said.

How was it going back to the classroom in her late 70s?

“I never felt any ageism; I felt very accepted,” she said. On the other hand, because of all her life experiences, she found she had to be cautious about not monopolizing class discussions, she said.

Is there still another career ahead after therapy?

She still might like to get a master’s degree in divinity to augment her work as a therapist. She’s not interested in becoming a minister.

Does she wish she’d found her calling to be a therapist earlier?

“I wouldn’t have skipped any of the times of my life that brought me to where I am. I come to it with wisdom.”

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