CARTHAGE, Mo. When the roll of graduates is called this June at the University of Western Missouri, the crowd of fresh-faced seniors will include at least one with a fair share of wrinkles. Linda “Pookie” Leftwich is a 77 year-old grandmother of four who will receive her degree with honors, if fifty-six years late.
“Pookie, you’re such a stitch!”
“I had to live my life first,” she laughs as tries on the “mortarboard” cap and gown that she will wear as she marches across the field at this land grant college’s football stadium. She was prepared to enter the school in the fall of 1958 when she was seventeen, but an unexpected pregnancy by her husband Duane put higher education on hold.
Leftwich at 77.
“I know the grandmother graduate has become a cliche,” she says, “so when I came back to school in the fall of 2014, I decided I’d do things Frank Sinatra-style–my way.”
Over the course of completing work for her bachelor’s degree in psychology, Leftwich has attracted many admirers among young men and women who entered school with her and who have been attracted to the senior citizen among them by her outspoken nature.
” . . . and I found my Volvo just sitting there on the ground, the tires ruined.”
“Like one time we had this real jerk of a professor in Psychology of the Family,” says Wanda Embree, who will also graduate this year. “He handed all of our papers back and said none of them were acceptable and we’d have to write them all over,” she recalls as tears well up in her eyes. “Pookie looked the guy straight in the eye and said ‘What kind of f__king power trip are you on, you jerk?’–then she stood up and said ‘Follow me’ and we went out into the faculty parking lot and slashed the guy’s tires. It was awesome!”
Latin study group.
With her practical, first-hand knowledge of the ways of the world, Pookie has been a source of counsel to some of the young women in her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta. “I tell my ‘girlfriends’ in the house that they should never go to a toga party without knowing the meaning of the Latin phrase ‘in flagrante delicto’,” she says cautiously. “You don’t want to get tossed out of school halfway through a semester and forfeit the hard-earned money your dad paid for tuition.”
Cool frat party!
On less weighty subjects, Pookie brings a wealth of experience to bear on subjects such as the proper dance steps a girl should be willing to perform with her date at a college “mixer,” where fraternity brothers and sorority sisters meet without assigned dates. “At a mixer, when you’ve just been introduced to a boy, you can do The Dog, but not The Dirty Dog,” she says with a tone of authority. “You always want to leave them wanting more.”