Where Were You At 62? Court Reporter Finds Her Own Words Through Rutgers Degree Earned Off Campus

Patricia Florio of the Rutgers Class of 2005

Patricia Florio spent an entire career as a court reporter writing other people’s statements.

But all along, the writer inside of her wanted to put her own words down on paper.

And at age 62, when many contemporaries were calculating Social Security payouts, Florio earned her bachelor’s degree through Rutgers Off Campus Programs to help launch her second career as a writer.

When she worked in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., Florio had to painstakingly assure that every word was recorded correctly, for legal purposes. “On the job, and through someone who proofed my work, I learned how to become a perfectionist,” said Florio. “And that is very much required when you're a court reporter.”

Florio also had experience as a freelance newspaper reporter, giving her the background to launch her writing career. But she felt she needed the confidence that a college degree would provide.

In 2005, after earning her in degree liberal studies from Rutgers-Camden, she launched into her writing career. Today, she proudly displays two published books—and that Rutgers diploma—in her writing studio in her home. Living steps from the sea in Ocean Grove, N.J., Florio now is working on her third book and is a leader in the arts community at the Jersey Shore.

My Two Mothers: A Memoir With Recipes (Serendipity Media) and Cucina Amelia: My Mother’s Favorite Sicilian and Neopolitan Recipes (Serenity Books Publishing) are based on her life as the daughter of Italian immigrants growing up in Brooklyn, a wife, a mother, and a working woman.

The two mothers are “Mom and my Aunt Jennie,” related Florio. “My aunt became my babysitter very early in my life.” Florio at birth had a 14-year-old sister and a 10-year-old brother, so her mother was “already out” of the house working. “So she said to my aunt, who couldn't have children: ‘Here! Here’s your kid!’”

The My Two Mothers book is part memoir, part cookbook, and 100% “tribute” to the two women who raised her, said Florio. “I had the privilege of taking care of both of them here one summer,” said Florio in her beach house kitchen. “And then we had to separate them and put them in nursing care, which was very difficult. And that's what part of the book is about.”

Florio, a co-founder of the Jersey Shore Writers Group based at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove, also has contributed short fiction to a number of anthologies including “Darkness Falls at the Jersey Shore” (Serenity Books, 2014). Florio now is working on a manuscript that draws even more deeply from her rich family life as the mother of four children and grandmother of four children over a 43-year marriage.

Getting Into School

While Florio wanted to follow her muse, she was so shy that she almost didn’t sign up for her first fiction-writing course, taken while getting an associate’s degree at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, N.J.

A counselor at Brookdale, Howard Finkelstein, lifted her with encouragement. Recalled Florio: “Howard would look at my [freelance newspaper] articles as they got published. I would go [and show him the articles] because I was like a child getting Christmas presents.

“Howard would read them and say: ‘This is easy for you, isn't it?’ And I would say: ‘You know, Howard, it is. I get this little thought in my head, and it bridges out and gets bigger, and I love this.’”

“And so he encouraged me to go to Rutgers,” Florio recounted.

When Florio finished her community college degree, she transferred to Rutgers through the Off Campus Programs unit, which offers the Rutgers curriculum at Brookdale and four other community colleges in New Jersey. That was in 1998, when Florio was 55.

At Rutgers, “I met wonderful professors. Wonderful professors—I can underline that 100 times. People who cared,” recalled Florio.

“It was exciting to be as equal as an 18-year-old student and as glowing as an 18-year-old student. It was amazing how you could fit in,” said Florio. “You can't feel threatened by a 21-year-old in your class sitting next to you, when you're 55.”

“I loved so much being a student,” she added.

When Florio attended commencement, she recalled, “I walked across the stage to my children cheering, my husband cheering. And people said to them: ‘Who's your daughter? Who's your son?’ And they said: ‘No, it's our mother!’”

-- Charles Wasilewski

About Rutgers Off Campus Programs: The Center for Off Campus Programs in the Rutgers Division of Continuing Studies provides a nontraditional route to a college degree. With five locations around the state, 12 academic departments and 17 degree programs, the Off Campus Programs at Rutgers allow students to complete an associate’s degree at a partnering community college; apply and be admitted to Rutgers; and then complete a degree remotely by attending Rutgers-taught classes on location at a partnering community college.

Info: offcampus.rutgers.edu

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