Saturday, December 3, 2016

Back to School Days

By Marjorie Howard

Veteran Boston newscaster Jim Boyd decided he didn’t really want to retire: he wanted to get his bachelor’s degree

Jim Boyd on the Tufts campus

“I wasn’t going to sit around and watch soap operas or paint the house,” Jim Boyd says of his retirement. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Jim Boyd is up each day at 6, reading, studying and writing papers for his classes—he’s a sociology major. It’s early, but nothing like the days when he’d awaken at 3:45 to be on the air at WCVB-TV by 5, delivering the news to early risers.

Boyd, 68, retired from his television career as a reporter and news anchor in 2008 and is now pursuing his undergraduate degree at last. “It had been bothering me for a very long time,” he says. “It was one of the things that I was most disappointed in myself about. I had in the back of my mind that it was unfinished business, something I had to do.”

It’s not as if the lack of a college degree kept Boyd from success and fame. After working his way up from a mailroom job to production assistant for WNET in New York, he came to Boston as a news reporter in 1971, later becoming an anchor.

The tall, handsome newscaster earned respect and accolades during his 37-year Boston career. When he retired, Dan Kennedy, a media critic and assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University, commented that Boyd “harks back to a different, better era for local television news. He and his quiet competence will be missed.” The Boston Herald wrote that his “dignified and affable manner made him a station favorite over the years.”

Boyd knew it was the right time to leave the job he had loved for so long. The question then became, how could he best use his time? “I wasn’t going to sit around and watch soap operas or paint the house,” he says.

He had tried college before, when he was only 16 and already a high school graduate, having finished junior high school at age 13. He now thinks his accelerated school career did not work in his favor. His family lived in Harlem, and he commuted to Long Island University each day, finding it hard to focus on college work when his friends were still in high school. Also, being a commuter student made it tough to get to know people at the university or become involved in its programs. He eventually flunked out.

Then he took a job at WNET, and thrived. He tried college again, enrolling in night school at Fairleigh Dickinson University. But his TV job meant overseas travel, and heading off to the likes of Paris without much notice was not conducive to writing papers and studying for tests. “I got a lot of withdrawals on my transcript,” he says ruefully. After giving it a chance for five years, he left school.

While at WCVB, he again thought about going to college, but with three growing daughters and a fast-paced career that had him trying to get to bed by 9:30—and usually failing—there was little time for school.

Through the years, not only did he feel he had failed his parents, who had never gone to college themselves, but he watched with envy as his three daughters achieved academic success. His oldest daughter went to Yale, his middle daughter to Georgetown and his youngest is now at Cornell.

He realized retirement offered him a chance to fulfill his early ambition and dipped his toes in the water by enrolling in a couple of courses at the University of Massachusetts Boston. There, turning the pages of a music textbook, he was startled to see a photo of his grandfather, Arthur Boyd, a violinist with a group called the Negro String Quartet. His grandfather had struggled to have a career as a musician, and seeing the photo further convinced Boyd that in earning his college degree, he would be accomplishing his own dream. “It gave me the sense this is the right thing for me to do.”

No Parents Allowed

Boyd spoke to a good friend, Noshir Mehta, chair of the Department of General Dentistry at the Tufts dental school, who told him, “I think you belong at Tufts.” Boyd then met with Provost Jamshed Bharucha and learned about REAL, or Resumed Education for Adult Learners, a program for students age 24 and over. Boyd says the support from REAL and from his ongoing contact with other older students, many of whom have family or work responsibilities, has been invaluable.

The Tufts community beyond REAL has provided emotional support as well. Boyd attended matriculation in the fall of 2009, and found the ceremony inspirational and uplifting, though the circumstances, he acknowledges with a laugh, were a little embarrassing. “I kept being told—sorry, parents aren’t allowed in this section, and I said, wait, I’m a student.”

After decades of scrambling to make the tight deadlines of TV news, Boyd says he finds it “fascinating to take a deeper look” at ideas and events in his classes. And he certainly brings a perspective that many of his fellow students don’t have. He’s lived through some of the events they are studying, such as Vietnam War protests in the late 1960s and the oil embargo of the early 1970s.

Initially he had planned to graduate with his bachelor’s degree in 2012. But when his youngest daughter pointed out that his graduation would conflict with hers, he agreed to take his time. He now expects to finish in 2013, when he will be 71. There’s no great hurry. After 40 years a couple of extra semesters won’t hurt.

Marjorie Howard can be reached at marjorie.howard@tufts.edu.

Posted November 03, 2010