Annabelle Larsen’s wake-up call came ten years ago, when she was 37. “I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and I realized that I’d better do something I really wanted to do with my life,” she says. She decided to go back to school, signing up for a writing class at The New School in New York.
A decade later, she’s in her final year at The New School, enrolled in the Riggio Honors Program for Writing and Democracy. Her health, she says, is great. “I’m extraordinarily grateful – they have a lot of drugs now that people didn’t have access to that keep people with MS in stasis so they don’t deteriorate, and they’ve been working well for me. I feel so fortunate,” she says.
Annabelle has struggled to make ends meet ever since she went back to school. “A few semesters ago, the financial aid office said they’d run out of funds, and I was devastated – I had to withdraw for that semester. Before the next semester started, I met with the head of the financial aid office. I begged and I pleaded and I told her that finishing school was my goal in life. They actually found some funds, and I was able to go back. But I had no idea when I’d ever be able to graduate – every semester I was on pins and needles waiting to hear about funding,” she says.
In early 2011, she was helping her boyfriend’s mother, who had just turned 65, sign up for Medicare. “She didn’t know where to look or what to do, but she’d been a member of AARP for a long time, and I started looking through AARP The Magazine for help. That’s where I came across the AARP Foundation Women’s Scholarship Program,” she says.
Annabelle applied, and when she received the letter telling her she had been awarded a scholarship, she was overjoyed. “It was such a breath of fresh air. I got down on my knees and thanked God,” she says. “I am so thankful to AARP Foundation for helping women out who really need it. We need all the support we can get, and it’s a fabulous, fabulous program.”
Her advice to other women who are thinking of going back to school? “Do it! Don’t be intimidated – we have a lot more to offer than we think. We’ve had so many experiences that younger people can learn from that we’re secondary teachers in a way. We have a lot to give, and people actually need to hear from us,” she says.
She credits her younger friends in the writing community at The New School for encouraging her to submit her work for publication. “I didn’t think I was good enough, but they told me I was,” she says. “As a result, two of my short stories have been published in Twelfth Street, the Riggio Honors program’s once-a-semester journal. I hope more will follow.”
Ten years in school haven’t deterred Annabelle from her love of learning. She plans to apply for graduate school to earn her MFA in writing, and then her Ph.D. “I have a lot of hopes and dreams,” she says, “and I would love to be able to teach writing. Thank you, AARP Foundation, for helping make my dreams come true.