On Saturday, Kathy Williamson will graduate from the University of Southern Maine with a degree in liberal arts. 

Kathy Williamson of Auburn, who dropped out of college in 1970 and pursued a career in radio and journalism, is set to graduate Saturday with a degree from the University of Southern Maine. Submitted photo

Also on Saturday, Williamson of Auburn will celebrate her 63rd birthday. 

“I am proud of what I did,” Williamson says of her late return to college life, “but that doesn’t mean I recommend it. Maturity probably helped me to get all A’s, but doing it at a younger age would have helped me to not be so darned broke.” 

As it happens, this was not her first go at college. She gave it a shot at the University of Maine at Orono in the 1970s, but Williamson said she didn’t have the right mindset for the college environment.

What she wanted was a paycheck. A career. A family. 

“I think I lived the slogan ‘life is short, so eat dessert first'” she says.


Sitting in a classroom all day did not seem, at the time, like the the most direct path to her ambitions. In fact, when she was attending Minot schools, she was taught that ambition is not a very good thing to begin with. 

She realizes now that she got bad information. 

“There wasn’t much in the municipal budget for education, so teacher quality was kind of a low priority,” she says. “I remember one day when our eighth-grade math instructor, who was also the school principal, felt inspired to put the books aside to give us a long lecture on the evils of ambition. So we were kind of trained to have low expectations and not hope to achieve very much.” 

There was also the fact that she grew up witnessing how hard work alone could help a person achieve a great many things. 

“My parents didn’t have much to show in the way of education, but they had a great work ethic,” she says. “I dropped out of college in 1979 and since then I raised a son, got married and divorced a couple of times and didn’t let my lack of credentials stop me from my dream career as a radio announcer and journalist for about 30 years.” 

She quit UMO in 1979 to become news director at WDEA in Ellsworth. She got married a few years later, gave birth to a son in 1984 and would go on to work in a variety of radio positions, including a stint on WBLM’s “Mark and Mark ReMarkable Radio Show” when they were based in Auburn. She also worked with WIGY, WLAM and several other stations. In 2004, she went freelance and covered Lewiston and Auburn city council meetings for Gleason Media.


Williamson had her career and she had a family. Many might have been content with that. Yet, the lack of college education always kind of nagged at her.

“I kind of always knew I’d be back to finish a degree,” Williamson says.

By the time she decided to go back to school — she enrolled full time at USM in 2020 — she felt more prepared, having experienced the world and having worked in media for decades.  

“As you know, media stuff can be pretty fast-paced and we train ourselves to gather information efficiently and then present it quickly and move on to the next story,” Williamson says. “I went back to school with the same approach and a plan to cram three years into two, which I managed to do this time without flaming out, but I had to change my approach to the work.” 

She also had a little help from a partner who knew a thing or two about higher education. 

“I had a lot of encouragement and guidance from my boyfriend, Steve, who I met in 1999,” Williamson says. “He has an Ivy League PhD and is a professor of literature at Bates College. He taught me how to pace myself and how to transition from journalism to academic writing. Once he got me rolling, I was careful never to show him my work before it was graded, because I didn’t want to feel like I had an unfair advantage.” 


The  ‘Old Granny’ of the class? 

Williamson thrived at USM, landing frequently on the Dean’s List and earning A’s pretty much across the board. And she did all that at perhaps the weirdest time in history for schooling — many students flailed and faltered under the new system of teaching demanded by a global pandemic. Williamson, on the other hand, found a way to make it work for her. 

“The pandemic has been good for me,” she says. “In the classroom setting, I sometimes found myself preoccupied about being the old granny of the class and I wondered if people were reacting to that, though it is less of an issue at USM where the average age of students is about 34. A lot of classes transitioned to online learning, where discourse is often conducted in an internet written forum, which I found much more conducive to discussion. It gives you the chance to compose your thoughts and express yourself honestly, without your appearance getting in the way. Students can follow up and go in-depth in a way you can’t when the classroom clock is ticking. If you wake up in the middle of the night with something to add to the conversation, you can just get up and do it. I did get COVID in January just as I was wrapping up, but I don’t think I got it from school because I wasn’t on campus very often.” 

On Saturday, Williamson will collect her diploma, more than four decades after dropping out of UMO. She’s 63 and she’s already achieved many things, including that successful second shot at college. 

Most would agree that Kathy Williamson has earned a little break — or at least the chance to take a shot at an entirely new venture. 

“I think I want to retire now and do art for a while,” she says. “I like painting decorative garden posts, textile weaving and crochet and I have some ideas for new products.” 

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