Most people start thinking about retiring at age 60. But not Rachel Ticotin.
Instead of slowing down, the married mother of three will be the first of six siblings to graduate from college when she receives her bachelor’s in English diploma from Columbia University on Wednesday.
“I think that as we get older we start narrowing our lives. I want other people to see it is never too late to learn,” Ticotin said. “It is an amazing, amazing experience. Some of the kids I was taking classes with are also inspired. They go tell their own parents, Ma’, Pa’ you should go do this. I took a class with this woman. She’s 60.”
The day before graduation, Ticotin was all smiles taking one of her last steps as an undergraduate student near the iconic Ivy League gates.
Growing up in the South Bronx and later moving to California, the idea of attending college escaped her. She climbed the Hollywood ladder from production assistant on the set of "Raging Bull" to playing Paul Newman’s love interest in "Fort Apache, The Bronx."
“I still want to be able to act. But I never want to stop learning,” she said.
A friend planted the idea of college when she told her about Columbia’s General Studies program, which accepts nontraditional students.
Six years later, after commuting from California to take spring and summer courses, she reached her once impossible goal.
Lisa Rose-Metsch, the dean of the School of General Studies who is originally from Oceanside, Long Island, said the school welcomes students who want to switch careers or never had an opportunity to go straight from high school to college, like Ticotin.
The school was founded in 1947, after World War II, to enroll war veterans. These days the school welcomes a diverse group of students, from career chefs, models and the formerly incarcerated to the famous, including Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
“Rachel really is the epitome of (the) General Studies student. Our students come here so hungry and open for an education, and they leave as Columbia graduates,” she said.
Ticotin agreed. She said she felt in awe learning from students of all stripes, from tech savvy millennials to war veterans.
As she completed her unlikely journey, she remembered her mother taking her to see a South Bronx mobile production of a Shakespeare’s Hamlet when she was 9-years-old.
“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know what the heck this is, but I love this. I want this,’” she recalled.
She tracked down a program of the same 1968 production she saw as a child while researching an assignment for her “Shakespeare in America” class.
“I could not believe it. It wasn’t a figment of my imagination. I did see this. I really came full circle,” she said.
She wants to share that sense of wonder with other children. Since 2010 she has codirected the annual Rising Stars show at New York’s LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts, and wants to find ways to expand street performances to other neighborhoods.
“It can be empowering. It tells people that they matter,” she said. “It makes you realize everything is possible. I’m graduating from Columbia University. I thought that was impossible years ago. It’s a dream.”