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76-year-old goes for third degree, new career

November 26, 2002

Most people in their 70s are mid-way into a decade of leisurely living. Not Paz Caisip. At age 76, she's pursuing a bachelor's degree in social work.

Originally from the Philippines, Caisip has lived in America 50 years and in Clarksville for the past five. In that time she has earned a bachelor's degree in nursing and public health as well as a master's in education.

She chose social work for her third degree because it offers the opportunity to help people without the physical demands of nursing.

“This is my therapy,” Caisip says of going to college. “My classmates are young, and their energy inspires me. They help me with my backpack and tell me they wish their mothers would do something like this.”

Caisip's daily routine includes service as gardener and flower arranger at Clarksville-Montgomery County's Ajax Turner Senior Center. From there she takes the Clarksville Transit System lift bus to the University for classes or, on her days off, to the hospital to cheer patients with her bright bouquets.

“I have to be doing something,” says Caisip, “and I don't like shuffle board, bingo or card games.”

One of her stops along her volunteer route is the Palmyra Convalescent Hospital. Working with senior adults there inspired her to focus on gerontology in social work.

Caisip, who has been taking two classes a semester since last year, concedes she'll be older than the average graduate when she's finished. “At this rate I may not get my degree till 2006! But I'll do it!" she asserts.

“I chose to get credit for my coursework instead of auditing because I'm sure that with my other degrees I will be able to get a job in social work with the department of human resources.”

If her age becomes a barrier to employment, so what?

“I don't have anything to lose by getting a degree,” she says. “Right now I just want some adventure.”

Caisip's coursework already has provided adventure by opening up her perspective to subjects of human behavior, social problems in the community and issues regarding sex and sexuality. She opted to take “The Vagina Monologues” as part of her coursework because, she says, in the Philippines you couldn't talk about your body or sex.

“Before the Americans occupied the Philippines, marriages were always arranged by families,” says Caisip. “Women were just meant to propagate, to have babies. We didn't talk about love in marriage. That isn't true anymore; society has changed and the culture has changed.”

“I had sex education in my training as a nurse, but we never went into the emotional aspects of it. This is something new they are beginning to do as part of sex education. It's good,” she says, “because the more I read, the more I begin to believe that the foundations of problems in the family can relate back to sex.”

Her class in human behavior and sexuality, in particular, has helped her to overcome a phobia of her own which, she says, had a lot to do with her cultural upbringing.

“I never liked to hug people,” she says. “I was always too conscious of my body.” Through the coursework, Caisip realized hugging is a natural expression of appreciation, affection or love.

Her true test was to come, however, when she met the mayor of Clarksville, Johnny Piper. Caisip occasionally makes a flower arrangement for the mayor to show her appreciation for all he has done for the city and the Senior Center in particular. She usually leaves the flower arrangement at a time when the mayor is out, but she happened upon him one day in the office.

“He said to me ‘Wait a minute. You can't leave here without a hug,' and I thought, ‘what am I going to do? I can't say no to the mayor!' He gave me this big hug then, and you know what? I've been hugging people ever since,” she say with a laugh.

While her enthusiasm and love of education are inspiring enough, Caisip has a few words of wisdom for the younger generation.

“Finish your education and get your degree. It will take you anywhere you want. Run with it while you still have brains and legs to carry you.”