It’s never too late to learn new things

Fernanda Cieri, 72, proud of her Italian Studies degree from York University

By Elena Serra

“The Italian language is truly important.”
This is the comment from 72-year old Fernanda Cieri just days before the award ceremony for her Italian Studies degree from York University.
This scholastic recognition is a life-long dream that came after many others in her place would have long thrown in the towel with the notion that it would be silly to return to school at such an age.
But Cieri – born in Palmoli in Chieti province – learned to be tenacious at 19 when she travelled alone on a 12-day ocean crossing to come live with her sister here in Canada.
“To study has always been my dream,” she told Corriere Canadese/Tandem, “but when I arrived here, it wasn’t easy. I had to work hard. I got married, and had two kids: Ester and Adriano.”
With the support of family, she managed to attend night classes and get her diploma, but “these studies were always in English, and were related to my job,” she explains, underlining the importance that the Italian language and traditions have always had in her life, despite the physical distance from Italy.
“As well, I’ve always maintained that life is boring if you’re not learning something,” she affirms, eyes shining like a child’s, as she describes how she ended up at York U. “After I retired I took a psychology course, and I was told at the university about this Italian course that gave students the opportunity to spend some weeks in Italy, and I enrolled.”
Her story is so simple that one easily forgets her classmates were all about 20 years of age and the teacher was much younger than her as well.
“They’re all astonishing people. I spent three weeks in Rome and three in Florence in 2004, and last year I was in Bologna with the school again. Those were wonderful experiences.”
A real and very deep love of the Italian language and culture, therefore, is what led to her truly unique experience, with youth who in the majority of cases were not of Italian origins. “I enjoyed helping them,” Cieri says, blushing a bit when asked if she ever helped with their homework during class.
But it’s when we discuss her degree award ceremony that her enthusiasm becomes even more evident:
“I’m very nervous, but all my family is proud of me and I would have never been able to achieve this had it not been for them. My husband, my kids, my sisters, and friends were my strength all these years, and I dedicate all this to them.”
A special thought goes out to her only grandchild Olivia, 17, who has always been proud of her and would often ask, “Grandma, did you finish your homework?”
One cannot help but ask such an extraordinary woman what her future plans are – only to be surprised by her answer.
“I want to help the students. I saw many youth abandon their studies, which is a real sin. I intend to ask the university if I can be of assistance. As well, the Italian language and culture are too valuable an asset, and I feel it’s our duty, especially seeing that we’re far from Italy, to do everything possible to preserve it. So working with students who have dedicated themselves to studying about Italy would be a great honour.”
With her family cheering her on, Cieri prepares to don the traditional academic cap, knowing that this for her is both a huge achievement and the beginning of even more extraordinary experiences.

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