By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM, N.H. — When Sharon Black of Methuen dons her cap and gown this morning, it won’t be for the first time.
It also won’t be the first time Barbara Kelly of Sandown celebrates her commencement.
The two women, both in their 50s, have done something many people their age wouldn’t dare try. That’s because they don’t have the time, energy or dedication.
They went back to college after being out of school for two or three decades. Now, they are studying for their law degrees.
Black — a Methuen mother of three — and Kelly, a Sandown mother of four raising three grandchildren, graduate today from the American College of History & Legal Studies.
They are among nine graduates receiving their diplomas during a ceremony at the Black Water Grill. State Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, is the guest speaker.
“It’s very exciting,” Black, 55, said earlier this week. “I can’t believe I actually made it.”
Black attributes her success to her faith and hard work.
Kelly, 56, is equally enthused.
“I’m just very excited,” she said.
At a time when many people their age are beginning to count down the years to retirement, Black and Kelly are determined to prove they can accept the challenge. Nothing is holding them back.
“When you really want to do something, you just do it,” said Kelly, a former medical assistant who wants to specialize in family mediation.
Kelly, who received her associate’s degree from Fisher College in the 1990s, has been out of the workforce for years after raising her children and now her grandchildren.
She considered resuming her career as a medical assistant, but decided to try law.
Black worked as an administrative assistant for a real estate appraisal firm for 25 years until she was laid off in 2009. She has done other work since, but as the mother of two dyslexic sons, her main focus is their welfare and serving as a special needs advocate.
The two women have juggled job and family responsibilities to attend classes three days a week at the college’s Stiles Road campus.
But their graduation with bachelor of arts degrees is just the beginning. They are both completing their law degrees at the Massachusetts College of Law in Andover.
After completing their first year of studies in Salem, anyone with a grade-point average of at least 2.7 can apply to the college’s sister school in Andover. Each has two years of law school to complete before taking their bar exams.
While the average age of the 23 students at the Salem school is in the 30s, Black and Kelly are perfect examples of the type of students the 3-year-old college serves, according to associate dean Maureen Mooney.
“We provide several things here to the nontraditional student going back to school,” she said.
The small, discussion-based classes provide a comfortable setting for older students who haven’t stepped foot in a classroom in years, Mooney said. The college also offers full scholarships and other financial help to students, Mooney said. Tuition is about $10,000 a year, she said.
Kelly said it’s that type of atmosphere and the bond with her fellow classmates that’s made it much easier to go back to college.
“All the students are very close,” she said. “All the students look out for each other.”
Other local graduates are Kelsey Kerr of Pelham and Lieren McElroy of Lawrence.