NAU’s oldest student is always smiling

Jeanne Kochan

Among the graduation crowd this May, 87-year-old Jeanne Kochan will be the oldest student to walk across the stage and join the ranks of NAU graduates. Along with her cap and gown, Kochan plans to wear her customary smile as she celebrates her achievement.

“Life has been very good to me. It has been hard but I love life and the smile comes from my heart,” Kochan said.

After caring for her ailing husband, and then her sister who died in 2012, Kochan thought about her next steps. While visiting the Prescott Valley library near her home, she noticed the sign for Northern Arizona University. “I thought, I really love learning so I’m going to go in and see if they’ll take me as a student. And they did,” Kochan said.

NAU-Yavapai is a branch campus in Prescott Valley, where students can graduate in three years by taking five-week classes year round.

Forty-five years ago, Kochan studied journalism at Boston’s Suffolk University before moving to Phoenix where she worked as a nurse. She began taking university classes in Tempe but said she did not feel supported. Thirty years later, she is nearly done with her degree in applied human behavior.

“At NAU, the staff welcomed me and they really wanted me to succeed.” As an 84-year-old freshman, Kochan was unfamiliar with MLA and APA, the required writing styles for college papers, and she needed to learn to navigate the computer. She described being supported at every turn.

So what’s it like sitting in class with people young enough to be great grandchildren? “Several people have told me, ‘Jeanne you are my inspiration,’” Kochan said. Recently, after giving a PowerPoint presentation, a young classmate stood up and applauded her.

“Jeanne has really enriched our campus community at NAU-Yavapai by offering a unique perspective and sharing her vibrant life experience,” said Susan Johnstad, assistant vice president and NAU-Yavapai campus executive officer. “I see students responding to Jeanne’s curiosity and openness to learning. I see her involved in study groups and on work teams, between classes and on weekends. Jeanne supports and is supported by students on this campus who, regardless of their generation, have become her peers.”

While she may have had to work harder than some people to earn her diploma, Kochan is fueled by her faith and the pride of family members, although four of her five siblings have passed away.

After graduation in May, Kochan would like to work for NAU if there is a job she could fulfill. “NAU has given so much to me and I would like to give back, if I am needed.”