The Golden Grad

“It’s funny. I thought all these young kids were going to say, ‘What’s this old lady doing in our classes?’ but they never did.”

One evening, Evelyn Malzberg ’11, a legal secretary in the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, came home from work to an empty apartment. This wasn’t an unusual event; she had divorced her husband years earlier and her two children were now living on their own. Nonetheless, the day-to-day monotony of minding an empty nest prompted her to reevaluate her life.

“I thought, ‘This is crazy!’” she remembers. “Then I thought, ‘I’m going to college.’”

With NJCU just a few blocks down the road, there was little doubt as to where she would apply.

Malzberg always had her eye on a college degree, but when she graduated high school at age 16, the dream was sidelined by her mother. “No man would want to marry a woman who is smarter than he is,” she cautioned.

Unfortunately, her words stuck. Nonetheless, over the course of her life, Malzberg flirted with college coursework—a single history class in
1968 and a two-year stint at NJCU in the 1970s—but she couldn’t stick with it. There were too many obligations that got in the way: a job; a family; and a husband who, as her mother had predicted, was unsupportive of her college career.

But in 1995, circumstances were different. There would be no more excuses. No more delays. Malzberg vowed to take one class each semester—and she wouldn’t quit until she earned her degree.

She began her college career that fall as a writing major and, almost at once, fell in love with academia. A class on writing memoirs, taught by Professor Edvige Giunta, was a particular favorite, as were the journalism and persuasive writing classes taught by Professor Jim Broderick.

But the road to a Bachelor of Fine Arts requires more than writing classesAnd, to Malzberg’s chagrin, a few of those classes gave the aspiring graduatemore than a little trouble.

“Math was a disaster!” she exclaims, accompanying the statement with a sharp wave as if attempting to shoo away the memory. “I thought it would keep me from graduating. They made me get tutoring every day for the whole summer until, thank God, I passed.”

Her commitment earned her the respect of the faculty and administrators, and her gregarious personality won over fellow students.

“It’s funny. I thought all these young kids were going to say, ‘What’s this old lady doing in our classes?’ but they never did. We all got along. Sometimes, when the professor would break the class down into small groups, I would invite my group to the house for dinner and we’d do our work there. We’d have a wonderful time.”

Semester by semester and year by year, Malzberg earned her credits. In 2011, 84 years old and now a great-grandmother, she became the oldest graduate in NJCU history. She also became an instant celebrity.

“I was the star of the graduation!” Malzberg marvels. “I went to where all the graduates were gathering before the ceremony and I find a guy from the Newark Star Ledger looking for me.”

Three other reporters were on the scene, too, following the soon-to-be grad around, snapping pictures like the paparazzi.

“After the ceremony, when we got up to leave, people came up to me asking for my autograph,” Malzberg says, shaking her head in what she clearly sees as the absurdity of it all.

But, of course, it wasn’t absurd; it was inspiring to everyone present at the ceremony, including the commencement speaker, then-Secretary
of Labor Hilda L. Solis, who used some of her time at the podium to give Malzberg a shout-out. “There’s an old saying,” Solis said from the dais, “‘The young student who works so hard to graduate wonders what the hurry was.’ Well, Evelyn, you paced yourself. And, today, you show us that you are never too old to stop learning.”

In the days and weeks that followed, that message continued to gain traction. Malzberg’s story ended up in many local and national newspapers, which, in turn, led to radio interviews on WOR and WCBS. She was also asked to give the commencement address at the A. Harry
Moore School.

It took a little while but, eventually, Malzberg’s life got back to normal.

In the years that followed, she contemplated the idea of going back to NJCU to get an advanced degree but decided that she needed to support
her temple more than she needed an MFA. These days, Malzberg puts her persistence and charming personality to work fundraising for Temple Beth-El events. She’s a natural.

“People don’t say ‘no’ to me,” she says. And how could they, really?

Despite some problems with her eyesight, Malzberg, who turned 90 in February, is healthy, happy, and content.

“I’ve been blessed by God,” she says, “and I keep saying to Him, ‘Listen, I want to live until at least 110. Please don’t bother me until then.’” NJCU