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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Alice," deriding her relative's accomplishment of graduating from college in her 40s, was so outrageous -- and so touched a nerve personally -- that I feel compelled to write my first-ever letter to express an opinion publicly.

I interrupted college to raise three children. Thirty years later, I received an AA degree, with a 3.64 average and while working full time. It wasn't easy, and I was gratified by the expressions of support and congratulations from family and friends alike. I'm now 52, a grandmother, and have just returned to college for my bachelor's degree while working full time. I'm likely to be in my mid-50s before I finish.

"Alice"'s mean-spirited condemnation misses the point entirely. Whether the degree helps in the current job or whether one "needs" a new career is irrelevant. What's important is the personal fulfillment that education brings, and the enrichment of one's life and the lives of others, that is inherent in being better educated.

Abby, your response to Alice was right on the mark. She should be thoroughly ashamed of herself. Her relative's accomplishment is indeed praiseworthy. -- GRANNY IN COLLEGE AND PROUD OF IT

DEAR GRANNY: Yours was one in a barrage of mail I've received from readers offering heated comments about "Alice"'s letter. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: This is for "Alice," who thinks her relative should have pursued housekeeping rather than broadening her horizons and improving her mind by obtaining a college degree in her 40s.

Wake up, Alice! This is the 1990s, not the 1890s. The definition of a good wife no longer includes maid service. You should be congratulating your relative rather than trying to pull her down. I detect more than a touch of mean-spirited jealousy in your letter. Shame on you! -- JANET IN ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.

DEAR JANET: Although many readers reacted angrily to Alice's comments, more wrote offering support and encouragement to the recent graduate because, they, too, had entered college late in life. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I still have one of your columns from years ago, in which you answered a 36-year-old college dropout who was considering entering medical school. The writer said it would take seven years to finish -- at which time he/she would be 43 years old. You answered by asking, "And how old will you be in seven years if you DON'T do it?"

Well, Abby, I entered college as a freshman at age 38. At 41, I graduated magna cum laude with my bachelor's degree, and at 42 I finished my master's of education with honors. My college experience encouraged my out-of-work husband to enroll in college, too. Now we have both graduated and work in careers we love. We've just purchased our first nice home and are paying our bills on time for the first time in our 28-year marriage. Our parents and grown children are proud of us. When I saw them cheering at my graduation, I cried. Nothing could have been nicer.

You were right when you said the relative of the graduate should be ashamed to have diminished her happiness. I wish her well. Education makes all the difference. Thanks for suggesting it. -- HAPPY AGGIE GRANDMA, ENNIS, TEXAS

DEAR HAPPY: You're welcome. Your experience attests to the importance of completing one's education. My congratulations to both of you.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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