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‘Age is not a barrier to university’: In conversation with Eulinda Antonette Clarke-Akalanne

Eulinda Antonette Clarke-Akalanne, 81, recently graduated from the University of Bristol with an MA in Black Humanities. She embodies the fact that age should not stand in the way of pursuing further education.

Eulinda Antonette Clarke-Akalanne, 81, recently graduated from the University of Bristol with an MA in Black Humanities, having achieved her BA in Anthropology in 2018. Antonette - as she is known -  embodies the fact that age should not stand in the way of achieving your goals.

Antonette was born and raised in Barbados, before moving to England aged 18, in 1959, following the UK government’s recruitment campaigns. In conversation with Epigram, she explains that Enoch Powell, former Government minister renowned for his anti-immigration stance, visited her school.  

‘He seemed like a nice young man, she said. ‘It just shows how people change. When you’re useful to people you’re the best thing after custard, and when you’re no longer useful you’re trash, like the people of the Windrush generation who were treated so horribly’.

In England, Antonette worked as a nurse in Derby. She lived in a nurses’ home alongside  mainly Irish women, who also faced discrimination, it being the era of ‘no Irish, no blacks, no dogs’. She then worked as a health visitor until 2007, when she retired. In retirement she was a respite foster carer and Citizens Advisor, but always felt that something was amiss.

Antonette was schooled in Barbados while it was still under British sovereignty, and this was reflected in the teaching content, steeped in British history, culture and literature. While she acknowledges that it was a good education, she explained that she learnt nothing about slavery or the history of Barbados and its people.

In her twenties, during her time as a nurse, she became interested in African history and  anthropology, drawn to the exploration of the origins of mankind and the development of society.  Despite these interests, she had to prioritise earning a living and raising her three children over enrolling in further education.

Antonette and her family | University of Bristol 

During the course of her life, she worked as a general nurse, social worker, midwifery sister, senior psychiatric charge nurse, nurse prescriber and in senior health. She was in her early seventies when she decided to enrol in an Anthropology BA, and has found the experience very rewarding.

Through the degree, she could gain easy access to otherwise highly expensive journals and articles, and she found it invigorating to be around young people. Rather than feeling awkward or uncomfortable, she found that going to the library and sitting amongst young people gave her energy.

‘I love learning and mixing with younger people. The energy they have, the feeling that they are all going somewhere is a type of vibration, a shoot of electricity,’ she said.

Her university work has explored colourism in the UK and Barbados, something that she explains she has experienced in her life. As a girl in Barbados, she was aware that  her lighter skin tone afforded her better opportunities than those with darker complexions. Her most recent project, ‘Bristol: Capital of Enslavement’, in which she is involved with eight other people, explores the city’s history with slavery.

She has convinced eight friends to enter university as mature students, and she recommends it to anybody.  ‘Age is not a barrier to university studies. It is only thinking that makes one think, so have courage and go for it. Achieving your goals, at any time in life, brings contentment, a sense of achievement and happiness. And if I can do it, then so can you!’ she said.

Amongst her other talents,  Antonette has been an avid writer throughout her life, and her poetry volume, Euanca (2021), is available in the Arts and Social Sciences library. Her writing is often autobiographical, and also addresses issues in contemporary politics.

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Many prospective mature students worry that they don’t have the necessary qualifications to enrol in further academic study, but many universities and colleges have a flexible admissions policy, taking work and life experience into account.

If you know anybody hesitating about whether or not to pursue further education, then Antonette exemplifies that it is not only possible, but well worth it.

Featured Image: University of Bristol

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