Commencement 2024

Diane Watford: An Unstoppable Lifelong Learner

Have you considered who you could be without mental roadblocks, the prejudices of others, or social circumstances infiltrating your mind? Diane Watford is a pragmatic lifelong learner on a quest to acquire knowledge and create her own path.

The term “lifelong learner” has gained immense popularity in recent years. Agility, adaptability, learning and unlearning skills and capabilities are cycles that Ms. Watford practiced long before the term’s viral popularity. At 64 years old, this sexagenarian lives a healthy lifestyle and will walk across the UBS Arena stage this week to accept her Bachelor of Arts degree from York College.  Her passion for learning was ignited at a young age, thanks to her parents' nurturing and the diverse experiences they exposed her to as a child. This Brooklyn native, and her siblings, were immersed in science, art, and politics. The early exposure, coupled with her avid reading, sharpened her critical thinking and deepened her “thirst for knowledge.”

Ms. Watford excelled in high school; she was a highly engaged student in all subjects with clear collegiate aspirations. After graduation from Springfield Gardens High School in 1977, Ms. Watford went straight to the private Bucknell University. However, she found the transition challenging. Dejected, yet determined to get a degree and make her parents proud, Ms. Watford returned home and enrolled in Taylor University, earning an associate’s degree. In 1982, Ms. Watford earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the New York Institute of Technology.

For years, Ms. Watford worked as an accounting assistant in the Bursar’s office of City College/City University of New York. In 2015, her boss encouraged her to take accounting courses to further her skills. That suggestion changed the trajectory of her life. After accounting classes, Ms. Watford's passion for learning was reignited. She took classes out of sheer interest, exploring subjects like Black History, swimming, gerontology, and sociology. As the years went by, she faced the difficult questions of aging, which led her to focus on gerontology and sociology. Despite the loss of her mother, Ms. Watford's commitment to learning remained unwavering.  

With a declared major in gerontology and a minor in sociology, there was suddenly a focus. Core classes, prerequisites and electives were all words of her new daily jargon. Ms. Watford was officially on her road to her chosen field of study. Ms. Watford credited her academic advisor Prof. Alex Costley for their assistance and tutelage throughout her journey. Prof. Costley recalled that Ms. Watford "took her first gerontology class with me in 2017, where she excelled, eager to share stories of older friends, neighbors, and news stories with the rest of the class…She was determined, not necessarily to finish quickly, but with strength and accomplishment.” These interactions with her professor and others not only enriched her learning experiences but fostered a supportive academic environment that contributed to her success. 

Ms. Watford will tell you that she has made many mistakes along the way, but she recalls her father telling her, “Erasers are on pencils for a reason. If you make a mistake, just redo it. Everyone has their own unique route to the end.” 

Ms. Watford’s journey culminates in the pomp and circumstance of graduation on Thursday. Her academic achievements are a testament to her dedication and hard work. When she was told that she would be receiving an award for having the highest GPA in her major, her emotions surfaced. Ms. Watford will have a memento of her mother with her during graduation, and her proud 89-year-old father will be watching on with delight in the crowd. Her parents instilled in her the sentiment to live life without mental constraints, a lesson she has truly embodied.