While the other students start to trickle in, Annemarie de Graaf is already in her seat. Before the lecture starts, she chats to her fellow students, mainly about the upcoming exams. During the lecture on the History of Western Art and Culture, however, she prefers to sit on her own.

Annemarie’s introduction to student life was Eureka week. Paula and Marijn, two girls from her group, were surprised when they saw Annemarie. “I thought she was a professor, perhaps an older supervisor, but definitely not a student. Now I think it’s amazing that she’s started a new study.”

Broken arm

For Annemarie, the opening in Ahoy and the party in Maassilo were the highlights of Eureka week, because you could see everyone together. But the week didn’t go exactly as planned. On the second day, she broke her arm when the brakes on her bike failed. She didn’t go out partying after that, but did attend the other activities like the festival on Thursday. Nevertheless, it was a successful week. “Some of the students told me that they’d called home to tell them how things were going and to say that you could go and study even when you’re older. Suddenly I’d become an example for others, which was nice.”

I understand Annemarie not feeling the need like most students to party till 4 a.m. But she did think the music in Beurs sounded good, so she might well be going out with her fellow students sometime soon. With respect to other extra-curricular activities, she’s more like the rest: “I might do something in ACE next year, but for now I just want to survive my first year.” Laughs: “Overall, I feel like a real student.”

Annemarie de Graaf
Image credit: Amber van Workum

For the past 10 years, Annemarie worked as head of purchasing for Erasmus University. Although she often had to think creatively about suitable solutions, she wanted to do something else. After her husband died, she decided to go her own way. “Sustainability is one of the big issues that concern me. We must move from asking ‘what is the problem’ to ‘how will we solve it’. Art is a way to start the discussion.” During the lecture, they talk about positivism after the First World War and how people thought that we’d have air taxis in the year 2000.

As a former member of staff of the university, she’s seen ‘both worlds’. “Staff and students share the same campus, but as a student you don’t truly realise everything that the staff do for you. The worlds are organised completely differently, and that takes a bit of getting used to sometimes.” For example, she now uses very different facilities, like the coffee vending machines and the normal toilets. Online platforms like Osiris and Canvas are also new to her and without her staff pass, she can’t pop in and have a coffee with her former colleagues.

Unlike the students in front of us, Annemarie doesn’t open Facebook or Instagram during the lecture. She diligently takes notes about the music of fauvism, cubism and futurism and stays focused. That reflects her genuine interest in the subject.

After her study, she wants to use art to get people thinking about big issues. Take sustainability, for example. “That’s one of the big issues that concern me. I’m not really an artist myself; I see myself more as an intermediary between artists and society. I want to get people discussing complex changes, like sustainability, before it’s too late.”