PEPPERELL — One UMass-Lowell student graduating on Sunday, June 3, is a bit different from the rest.
She’s a 47-year-old mother of two carrying a perfect 4.0 grade point average in American studies and a desire to spread awareness of inequities in social justice. She will be matriculating at Northeastern University this fall to pursue a doctorate.
Pepperell resident Margaret Scarsdale moved to Pepperell from Groton a few years ago. Originally from Columbus, Ga., she had lived “all over Massachusetts” before moving to Groton.
Mom to Nicholas, 10, Graylen, 8, and wife of James Scarsdale, who is attempting to start a sustainable-energy business, she credits her advisor, UMass-Lowell professor Hillary Holiday, and Dan Egan, chairman of the university’s Sociology Department, for “having the most profound impact on my life and igniting the passion.”
She had dropped out of school and taken 20 years off before returning.
Participating in the university’s combined bachelor of arts and master’s program, Scarsdale said her outstanding scholastic record is the result of being “transformed” by her studies, rather than just sitting through them.
She has spent a year of directed study producing a 365-day calendar of social injustices that “pays tribute to the people who spoke out against them,” with protests dating back to 1740.
“It’s a profound statement about what goes on under the guise of democracy that doesn’t look at the things going on that are antithetical,” she said.
“When I first moved here I tried to disguise my southern accent because I thought people would think I was someone who is slow,” she said. “Now I relish it’s warmth.”
The northern way of living took time to get through to her, before she realized the same warmth of character exists in New England.
“It’s been a wonderful experience, especially going back to school,” Scarsdale said. “I want so desperately to learn to be a force for change.
“It was also interesting to navigate between the two worlds, being with students and having kids of my own,” she said. “We had the same worries about papers and exams. You team up and you become more like a friend, then I walk out and become a mom doing the grocery shopping on the way home.
“The quality of teaching I’ve had has been inspiring. It would hold up against any school anywhere,” she added. “I truly feel the professors have been such a motivating influence and that they set a life’s course for me. I’ll never be able to thank them.”
Scarsdale said she went back to school after someone gave her a book on 2003 politics.
“I used to run and hide from that because politics seemed too nebulous,” she said. “Then I realized politics is a set of rules and structures set up by people and they can be changed.
“I personally wonder about our system when you have to choose between two parties, each of whom can spend a half million dollars to get elected. This country is set up so that the goodies go to the rich. One percent of the population owns 90 percent of the wealth. So the rest make due with 10 percent. That isn’t fair,” she said.
Post-doctorate, Scarsdale ideally would go on the lecture circuit, talking to young people about how to make a different country, “Particularly since our society is set up with a consumerism intended to satisfy all needs and is run by sound bites,” she continued.
Scarsdale thanked Holiday for giving her room to explore during her days at UMass-Lowell, and Egan for “being such a force for social justice.”
She has family from Arkansas coming to her graduation. She is looking forward to doctoral work at Northeastern University in the fall in, of course, sociology, with a concentration in social justice and equality.
“It’s a perfect fit,” Scarsdale said.
“We have a number of returning older students. Often they’re very fine but Margaret has been an exceptional student, no matter how you define one,” Holiday said. “She is brilliant and fun to work with. From what Dan Egan and (professor) Michael Milner tell me, she was always wonderful. She has a marvelous future in front of her.”