| Sara Ruschaupt gets her diploma May 18 at NOVA’s Loudoun campus alongside her granddaughter Abby Ruschaupt. Photo Courtesy/NOVA|
'Never give up' may be a cliché, but if ever there was a poster child for that credo it's Sara Ruschaupt.
At 76, after years of working for and retiring from the government, raising four children and helping with an ailing sibling, the vivacious woman on May 18 walked onto a Northern Virginia Community College Loudoun campus stage and received her college diploma.
“Don, I did it,” Ruschaupt screamed to the crowd as she received her associate of science degree in general studies. Don was her husband of 55 years who died in November. It's him she credits with giving her the encouragement she needed to continue her education.
Ruschaupt graduated May 18 alongside her granddaughter, Abby Ruschaupt.
“I like to learn. If you don't use it, you will lose it,” Sara Ruschaupt said.
The road to the stage was a long, hard-fought battle for the Lowes Island resident and Washington, D.C. native.
After graduating high school in 1956, Ruschaupt, one of 18 children, went to work for the Atomic Energy Commission, which later became the U.S. Department of Energy. It was there she met Don, and the two married in 1963. Over the next few decades, the Ruschaupts raised four children together and moved overseas to England, Israel, Japan and Panama for her husband's job.
Retirement for Ruschaupt came in 1993, but the energetic woman soon realized she wasn't ready for that lifestyle. “I can do more,” she told herself.
She began taking computer courses at NOVA's Loudoun campus. At first, Ruschaupt was nervous, scared she would be the only person from her generation in the classroom. But that quickly changed.
“It was a diverse group, there were young people, but people my age that were learning about computers, too, and I thought 'l like this'.”
From there, she just kept going.
“I wound up taking different courses,” she said. “The more classes I took, the more I learned. You are never too old to learn.”
Still, Ruschaupt found it wouldn't be that easy. Hurdles – ones that Ruschaupt overcame with her generous, but tough, nature – presented themselves.
Ruschaupt put her studies on hold several times when her granddaughter had to undergo a number of heart surgeries. Along with her other sisters, she also cared for one sister who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Through it all, the words of her husband and family kept her going.
“My husband had a master's degree in political science and international relations and we were always discussing things going back and forth,” she said. “ … One day he said 'Why don't you go for it?' With his encouragement, I started taking more and more classes.”
Ruschaupt even brags that she did better on one of her economic classes than her husband did during his college tenure.
With diploma in hand, Ruschaupt looks back at what would have been her college years with no regrets.
She grew up in an era when women working and living in D.C. “worked for the government, you found a husband, you had kids and you did it all in that order.”
She's using her success to encourage everyone, but especially women, to get an education and work hard to achieve their dreams – no matter how difficult it may be.
“You never know when you have to fall back on it. You lose a husband, or you're divorced … that way you have that education to use to your advantage,” she said.
All of Ruschaupt's children went to college. “My husband and I both put the emphasis on education and education. And the same goes with our grandchildren,” she said.
Ruschaupt points to the movie “Mona Lisa Smile” as a perfect example of what the times were like as she grew up.
“Even though they were going to school, they were not encouraged to use their education. It was a means to find a husband … That was how I grew up. It was you find a husband, you get married. But I didn't put my brain on hold.”
An avid politico, Ruschaupt uses former first lady Hillary Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama as examples of women, who despite their titles of wives, didn't put their brains on hold.
“I think women have it harder now than any other time. I wish that glass ceiling would break, not in politics, but in corporations,” she said.
Ruschaupt may have her degree, but she's far from finished with her education. She and her granddaughter Abby plan to visit Ireland in the fall, and more classes are on the horizon.
She plans to eventually attend George Mason University.
“I'm being encouraged to take pre-cal,” she said.