79-year-old English major writes poetry, illustrates and takes dance

From the University of Delaware Review, student newspaper

79-year-old English major still showing off talents

May 18, 2014

Nancy Haydon Gray, a 79-year-old English major, writes poetry, illustrates and takes dance classes at the university.
Cori Iliardi//THE REVIEW
Nancy Haydon Gray, 79, has been taking classes at the university for four years. Currently, she is enrolled in Dance 101.

Copy Desk Chief

Among the students showing off their long boards, knitting projects and modified toy vehicles at the Design Innovation and Positivity (DIP) club’s showcase last weekend, there was one student who didn’t look quite like the rest: a 79-year-old English major.

Nancy Haydon Gray has been studying at the university for four years, taking one class a semester on a pass/fail basis, but this is not Gray’s first time pursuing a degree. Gray already holds two master’s degrees in communications management and elementary education.

She has been taking classes for four years, but she says she doesn’t have a status like freshman or sophomore.

“I get away with as much as I can, so I never have to graduate,” Gray says with a smile.

Gray displayed her works over the last 25 years at the DIP showcase, she says. Her works were compiled into books of poems and short stories which also included illustrations Gray has created over the years.

At the showcase, she asked attendees—children, students and adults alike—to draw a picture of a wagon for her next project. Her next project is a children’s story, most likely a picture book, she says. On the table was a prompt for attendees to read, explaining why she was asking them to draw wagons.

The sign—which demonstrated the purpose of the book and wagons—talked about a neighborhood that’s bare and sad, but the children come up with an idea to make it more lively again.

“[It will] show how a bunch of little kids can do more than maybe their parents think they can do,” she says. “They’ll create a parade with wagons.”

Gray is going to use the wagons the guests drew for her in the picture book, she says. These wagons will be spread throughout the book as the parade of wagons the children in the story create.

Although Gray is majoring in English, her interests span far beyond that, and she takes more than just English classes. This semester, she chose to take Dance 101 where she says they learn about history of dance through films, but they also try out some of the dances.

“They’re beautiful young people, absolutely beautiful, and some of them are so graceful,” she says. “It’s just a pleasure to be around them.”

Professor Jeanne Walker met Gray when Gray took her Introduction to Poetry class. She says she was excited to have someone Nancy’s age in her class, even though it was a class of mostly juniors and seniors—all under the age of 22.

Walker says Gray was one of the top students in the class, and she was always up for anything. She was top of the class, very smart and highly motivated, Walker says.

“Nancy always said what she thought,” Walker says. “She was very straightforward. On the other hand, she is capable of making friends with somebody at any age, and therefore, our undergraduates, I think, loved her.”

Gray is very hospitable and kind to people at all levels, Walker says.

To demonstrate Gray’s kindness, Walker says she once met with Gray to discuss some of Gray’s artwork and poetry. Walker says her office was so cold, she almost needed mittens. After the next weekend, Walker returned to her office to find a large package outside her door. She says she couldn’t imagine what it could be, and when she opened it, she found Gray had sent her a space heater.

“It’s absolutely typical of the way she goes through life,” Walker says. “I bet a lot of people could tell stories that are similar.”

But beyond just being sweet and kind, Gray has lived an interesting life, knows a lot of people and stays in great shape, Walker says.

“She still has the capacity to meet new situations with zest and curiosity,” Walker says. “She has a fierce intelligence, and she’s still curious.”

Posted by Cori Ilardi

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