At age 71, long-awaited degree is music to her ears
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Peggy Shively knew that going back to get another bachelor’s degree at age 69 was no small task.
Her travels with her husband, Bob, had to be put on hold. Then the pandemic hit, forcing her to learn how to navigate an online course after more than 40 years away from any sort of classroom setting.
But she hung in there, and on Saturday — just months before her 72nd birthday — the piano instructor is scheduled to be part of Winter Commencement at Grand Canyon University Arena.
The ceremonies will be limited to graduates only because of COVID-19 protocols but can be viewed on livestream at 10 a.m. (for graduates of the College of Education, College of Fine Arts and Production, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and College of Theology) and 3 p.m. (Colangelo College of Business; College of Nursing and Health Care Professions; and College of Science, Engineering and Technology).
Shively earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music Education from the University of Michigan in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but her major was Piano Performance before a severe case of tendinitis forced her to leave that program during her junior year.
“I couldn’t get rid of it,” Shively said.
She adjusted to playing the piano left-handed but was unable to perform the required recital.
“I had to make a decision and money was going to run out, so I had to get a degree in something,” she said. “I had been teaching privately and loved it, and so I thought, ‘Maybe this teaching thing would work.’ I loved the teaching.”
The Glendale, Ariz., resident went on to teach music for 43 1/2 years, including 33 in the Peoria Unified School District, where she was Choral Director, before deciding she had some unfinished academic business.
“I always kind of wanted to play that senior recital,” Shively said.
That longing led her to researching music programs offered by universities. That’s when she found GCU.
“GCU was so friendly and everybody there was so nice to me,” she said. “I’ve had a really good experience here.”
In two years, she would complete the additional credits necessary to earn her Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance after adapting to a new era of education.
“My very first semester an instructor said, ‘Well, you might want to take notes on this,’ and everybody took out their laptops and I took out my pencil and paper,” Shively said. “I quickly learned how to do that from my computer.”
Shively says the knowledge she gained during the program helped her grow as a performer. That growth also made her dream a reality last week when she performed that long-awaited recital in GCU’s Recording Studio. (Watch it here.)
She attracted an audience.
“I told some of my former students about the senior recital, and it was interesting because I got messages back from them that they watched it with their kids,” she said. “It was really nice to have their support and to have them say that it’s really cool that I was doing this.
“It’s wonderful when they write me and tell me what they’re doing and tell me how the music has impacted their lives. That is just the coolest.”
Shively credited the love and support of her husband, whom she married last year, for helping her reach her goal. Not only did he agree to put the couple’s travels on hold, Shively said he was more than accommodating to make sure she got her work done.
“He’s just very willing to make his life work around mine for the last two years,” she said. “It’s been wonderful.”
Although she doesn’t have any specific plans for her new degree, Shively says getting to finally complete her original degree program of choice is reward enough for her efforts. And that’s the message she hopes others take away from her story.
“You can do whatever you want to do,” she said. “I was not able to go the direction I wanted to go early on, but I found one that was a good fit for me. This was something that I always wanted to do, and so the message is to go and do it.
“I had a goal and I went for it, and it is very satisfying.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].
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