Retiree Commits to Lifetime of Learning

  • June 15, 2005

What can one accomplish in 86 years? Sit down -- you may get exhausted just reading the list. How about three master's degrees, two doctorates and four bachelor's degrees?

Meet Castro Valley's Daniel Oxman, a retired dentist and world-class student who turns 86 next month. The energetic dentist did not set out to amass a collection of degrees; he is just an inveterate, enthusiastic learner.

He says it started when he was drafted during World War II. A native New Yorker, he had originally planned to become an electrical engineer, but after going into the Navy and officer's school, he realized he liked working with people and was good with his hands. The GI Bill helped pay for dental school. Since beginning a practice in 1951, Daniel Oxman says education became a integral part of his dentistry practice and life.

At first, he took science classes as part of continuing education requirements, but he soon realized he loved learning and expanded into other areas. "Each category opens up new fields of thought, it just keeps opening doors, one after another," he enthuses.

After his wife, Frieda, passed away two months into his retirement 16 years ago (he practiced from 1951 to 1989), he had even more reason to keep mentally active.

"I just felt this emptiness and attending school was fulfilling," he says. It was an economical occupation he says, because after age 60 students qualify for reduced tuition rates. Living in Castro Valley made it convenient to attend classes at Cal State East Bay. In all, he received seven of his degrees from there -- the most recent, a master's degree in Special Major-Renaissance Reformation studies he received last Saturday -- just in time to head off on an Alaskan cruise with family.

This degree by the way, will be his first to come from the newly renamed university, formerly Cal State Hayward.

Being the oldest in the class has had its advantages and disadvantages, he notes. For the last few years, he is usually older than the professor, too, but he tries to blend in and they treat him like anyone else. And no matter how many degrees he can boast of, he still has to turn in papers and do his coursework like everyone else.

Along the way, he has seen many faculty members "wear out." No small wonder, as Oxman has been attending Cal State since 1968. Students may want to note this: Often, the secret to getting by, he says unabashedly, "Is join the 'teacher's club' and see how he or she thinks. The 'emotional high' won't be the same as when you stress your original ideas completely, but sometimes you just need to get through," he advises.

Years ago, he hoped one of his three children would become interested in dentistry. He often brought them into the office on Saturdays to get a feel for the profession. None became a dentist, but they were surely inspired by his achievements in academics. One son is a chaplain in the Air Force with several degrees including a master's and several bachelor degrees; another son is an emergency room physician; and his daughter holds a jurisprudence degree and MBA from Stanford University.

Like most students, Oxman is looking forward to a summer off from classes. But come fall, he will hit the books again. He is interested in learning more about poetry, as well as the history and development of music, especially classical music. His advice for success? "If you have strength, health and the time, go to school!"

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