Harley hopes that the society realises that a person like him can create meaningful and enriching experiences for young people.
When 71-year-old Leroy Harley moved to South Carolina to be with his ailing mom, he was expecting to have his hands busy. But she soon got well, and he was left with a lot of time.
"It came to a full head after I moved back to South Carolina to be with my mother, who was ailing," Harley told Good Morning America. "And she started doing well, so it was like, I'll either sit here on the porch or I gotta do something."
The son of a sharecropper, who studied dance as an undergraduate years ago, has pursued many different careers, including a stint as a cosmetologist, was in a dilemma about what to do.
At first glance, 71-year-old Leroy Harley might not look like the typical member of the class of 2022, but he joined his fellow students on the graduation stage earlier this month and is now the proud recipient of a master's degree. https://t.co/yX8Aib0Ng1— ABC News (@ABC) May 28, 2022
"You accumulate all these things. And now, what do you do with it?" he continued. "I'm getting to the point that, I can't do a grand battement [a ballet move] anymore, like I used to be able to do. The legs don't kick that high anymore, but I can tell you how to do it safely. So, all that knowledge has turned from physical to mental."
Harley's part-time job of volunteering at a local school—which started after his mother's suggestion watching him help his nieces and nephews with their school work—paved a path for him to get a degree and get enrolled in the University of South Carolina's Transition to Teaching program. He joined the first cohort of students in 2020.
George Roy, a former public school teacher-turned-professor and principal investigator of the Carolina Transition to Teaching said that the program aims to diversify the state's teacher workforce, explaining why Harley was a perfect fit.
"The real emphasis is really to think about different pathways and traditional pathways into the classroom. And we want to really provide [an] opportunity for individuals, especially individuals in our rural communities, to really have the opportunity to go back or stay in their communities," Roy said.
71-year-old graduate Leroy Harley hopes to inspire others to give back to their communities - https://t.co/PWOtiqtlLl via @ABC— Stephanie. (@qsteph) May 24, 2022
But there were bumps along the way. "I had to drop out right after the summer session because I caught COVID," Harley said. Fortunately, Harley recovered quickly and he reached out to the school to see if he could rejoin his classes.
The Bowman native went back to school at age 69 and said he did it to give back to his local community. Harley's achievements in the past two years include being an elementary teacher's assistant in special education, art, and keyboarding, starting a drama club for students.
He just loves being at school with the students, he said. "It's just a great place to wake up to go to, to be there with them," he said.
Now with his master's degree in hand, Harley has established a foundation for his new chapter as a teacher.
"One of the things that I know Mr. Harley said in the past to me is that he's going to teach for a while, and so we're invested in him as he invested in us," Roy said. "For the next three years, we have faculty who will support him and help think about the challenges of an early career teacher because, as we know, there are a multitude of challenges that impact the profession. And so our goal is to really take those experiences that he had, and really continue to support them as we go forward."
🎓 Need a daily dose of good news? Meet Leroy Harley, one of our #UofSC22 graduates. With his new @UofSCEducation degree, the 71-year-old is giving back to his community by teaching the next generation of South Carolinians.— UofSC News (@UofSCnewsy) May 24, 2022
Read Leroy's story via @GMA ⬇️ https://t.co/cmkHzABF50
Harley hopes his story to not only inspire others to give back but he also hopes that the society realises that a person like him can create meaningful and enriching experiences for young people.
"I grew up in an era where it was that at 65, you were gonna retire. ... By having that mindset, you push aside a lot of people with knowledge, people with not necessarily knowledge that comes from the book, but just in general, knowledge that will be able to help a kid to get through a situation," Harley said.
"You have something to offer," he added. "Go out and give it."
Cover Image Source: YouTube | News 19 WLTX