By Kim Jansen
News Report Staff
Teutopolis resident Jim Borrelli’s life took a left turn, as he says.
As the father of five grown daughters and with his wife, Laurie, recently retired, the 59-year-old Borrelli had forged a path that led him to a 25-year career at John Boos in Effingham where he works as a salesman.
Although he is now working part-time and retirement is just around the corner, Borrelli decided to set his life on a new course — a course that has him attending college at Illinois State University in Normal.
After 35 years, Borrelli returned to ISU and is expected to graduate in May with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater Production. He took his first two semesters of courses online through the college, then has taken his final two semesters of courses on campus.
“For me, having the degree at my age doesn’t make me more marketable and it doesn’t assist me in career advancement. But it does allow me to go in a different direction; to take a left turn,” said Borrelli.
As for his plans for his degree, Borrelli hopes to be a substitute teacher at area schools, which is a position that requires a Bachelor’s Degree.
“I want to be able to retire early and want to have a flexible career path,” said Borrelli, who added he would like to continue to substitute teach even past retirement age to earn extra income and to keep busy.
That’s not the only reason Borrelli decided to go back to college. It was also on his bucket list!
“It is a bucket list item. It is an accomplishment,” he said.
When Borrelli attended college earlier in life, he admits that college wasn’t the right fit for him at the time and he said, sadly, he flunked out just 24 credit hours short of graduating.
“It is the story that happens often, but is not told often,” said Borrelli. “Sometimes, you are not grown up and mature enough for college. It wasn’t the proper time for me.”
But now that Borrelli is back on campus and living the college life from Monday to Thursday each week, he acknowledges the different mindset he has now, compared to his younger years.
“When I was here the first time, I took every course offered by the theater department, but I never took any general education courses,” said Borrelli. “So, I have taken a broad base of courses, and I have found them all to be interesting.”
Borrelli has taken, or is taking, courses in subjects including agriculture, philosophy, personal finance, criminal justice and Native American History.
“There hasn’t been any course that I have taken here that I didn’t find interesting,” he said. “Education is not a bad thing. Everybody can always use more education.”
He added that it is not only the courses he is approaching differently, but also his professors, many who are younger than him.
“I approach each college professor as more like a colleague or a business contact, someone to network with,” said Borrelli. “As much as you want something from them, they also need something from you. It is important to build those relationships.”
Professors have been curious about what brings Borrelli back to school.
“For them, it is curious to see a 59-year-old sitting in a class of 20-year-olds,” he said with a laugh.
One of the biggest changes since Borelli’s first time attending ISU is the advancements in technology — not just the use of computers, internet and social medial, but also the use of cell phones during class.
“You sit in a lecture hall, and somebody is buying shoes, someone else is watching a game, and so on,” said Borelli. “There is the electronic ability to be able to perform a different task, when you should be paying attention to the current task.”
With graduation just a few months away, Borrelli has received a lot of support from his family, including his five daughters who insist he participate in the graduation ceremony and walk across the stage.
“They want to watch me walk across the stage and receive my diploma, just like I watched them,” he said.
The thought of receiving his diploma after all of these years has been a bit overwhelming.
“I walk across campus, and sometimes, I just can’t believe that I have gotten back to this point and that I have been this successful. I found it to be easier than I thought it would be,” said Borrelli.
As to whether he will go back for a Master’s Degree, Borrelli laughed and said his wife said that he cannot go back.
“We want to be able to retire young and to travel while we are young,” said Borrelli. “We want to be able to enjoy as much as we can, as long as we can.”