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Celebrating Ada Comstock Scholars

It takes the traditional student more than 120 credit hours and some four years to earn a Smith College bachelor’s degree. But there are some students, like Mary Pinney ’80, for whom the march to graduation can take decades.

Originally a member of the class of 1958, Mary Pinney entered Smith in fall 1954. The daughter of a Smith alumna, class of 1932, she says, “I always knew I wanted to go to Smith, and I loved being there.”

However, she was also in love with her high school sweetheart, and after marrying him during her junior year, she left Smith, “in good academic standing, but not expecting that I would ever return.” Nevertheless, six children and 20 years later, she returned to Smith to finish her degree, commuting each week from New Jersey and staying on campus from Sunday to Wednesday.

“It was a glorious two years,” she recalls. “There were moments of quiet desperation, when I thought I would never make it, but also many moments of tremendous satisfaction and joy as I realized I could still think and write and achieve academically.”

Pinney went on to earn a master’s degree and complete all of her coursework, except for her dissertation, for a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. Eventually she became an associate dean at Rider University.

It has been 30 years since former Smith president Jill Ker Conway founded the Ada Comstock Scholars Program, the first college program to offer older women the opportunity to resume their education. This fall, Ada alumnae were invited back to campus October 7-8 to commemorate the program’s successes.

The program’s milestone is cause for celebration. Alexandra Kutik ’00 of San Francisco, California, says it was good to reconnect with the Ada community, both alumnae and current students. “Our primary common cause is to transform our lives. The celebration was a very powerful reminder of the commitment we all made.”

Before entering the Ada program, Kutik had a long career in nonprofit management, but positions in top management eluded her. “My goal upon graduation was to head a small nonprofit,” notes Kutik, “and that’s exactly what I did, serving as executive director of the Randall Museum Friends. I believe that the confidence gained during my very successful academic years helped me to achieve this professional goal.”

Mary Pinney ’80 would agree. But there is another unanticipated benefit of her Ada experience that she likes to point to: a friendship among seven women, all Smith graduates with ages spanning some 21 years, who have formed a close bond since attending Smith. “Over the years, as our lives have evolved, we have shared laughter and tears, food and drink and most of all love,” Pinney notes. “Our children have grown; grandchildren, none of whom existed in 1980, have grown; three of us have lost spouses; all but one of us is now retired. Through all of the ups and downs of our lives, our friendship has remained a vital constant.”

Go to for more information about the program.

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