Inspiring Stories

Inspiring Story: Bob McLean, 69

After retiring when he closed his association management business six years ago, Bob McLean, finally had time to do something he’d always dreamed of: become bilingual.

We spoke with Bob, a Senior Planet participant and avid life-long learner, about what it was like to go to college online in his 60s. 

What made you want to go back to school and get a degree in Spanish? 

I kept seeing articles that said that to keep your mind sharp in retirement, the two best things you can do are learn how to play a musical instrument or learn how to speak a foreign language. I thought wouldn’t it be great if I could go back and re-learn Spanish, which I had studied in college, and put that to good use as a volunteer in my community?  

In my state, as in many states, you can audit a class at a state-funded university or community college for free if there is an empty seat, so I audited two semesters of Spanish at a local college and then the pandemic hit.

I said I wanted to get my bachelors in Spanish before I turned 70. This May, I graduated magna cum laude. 

That’s when I started looking for online study opportunities and discovered the program at Arizona State University, so I was able to continue my studies from the safety of my home desk.  

I said I wanted to get my bachelors in Spanish before I turned 70. This May, I graduated magna cum laude. 

What was it like being one of the few older adult students in these college classes? 

It was interesting – I would speak with someone on the phone or over email and there would be no indication that they knew my senior citizen status, but then the first time we’d meet on Zoom, three out of four times there would be a look on the other person’s face that said, “oh my goodness, how old is he?” 

Credibility gap

You had to establish your credibility with these young people who were concerned that they were stuck doing a group project with someone who “doesn’t get it” or is not very good at technology. My mind is not as quick as a 21-year-old, but what I have as an older student is experience and self-discipline. I also had the added benefit of having more time to dedicate myself to this work. 

Do you have any advice for other retirees interested in going back to school? 

You are not too old to learn, that’s it in a nutshell. If you keep an open mind when it comes to technology and learning new technologies, which I found to be truly interesting, I think going back to school can be one of the most invigorating events of your retirement life.  

I can’t think of a better way to enjoy retirement than to use it to learn. I want to use my retirement life to enrich myself. And you don’t necessarily need to go to a university or pursue a degree – there are a lot of options to learn, starting with Senior Planet 

What does aging with attitude mean to you? 

For me, it means aging and learning. It doesn’t need to be in the classroom! But the possibility of me going back to school again is still out there. 


Pam Hugi is Senior Planet’s Community and Advocacy Manager. Based in Brooklyn, she is a contributing writer for this site.


2 responses to “Inspiring Story: Bob McLean, 69

  1. Thank you Bob! Sharing your experience is definitely inspiring and helping me. I, too, had many years of Spanish in high school and college. Your approach has helped me see it’s not too late brush up and to consider auditing classes at local colleges.

  2. What an inspiration! He not only took some classes in Spanish, but went farther, earned a degree, and graduated magna cum laude. Congratulations!

    I hope his story motivates other seniors to choose an activity that interests them. It’s a great way to exercise the brain, meet new people, and have some fun!

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