Looking for inspiration? Look no further than some of the stages of community college graduations this year. Amid the young adults parading across the stages to accept their hard-earned degrees, you might see a few faces you would not expect at a graduation event. Some of the oldest community college graduates of 2013 are also some of the most inspiring – if you are lucky enough to grab a few nuggets of their wisdom and their zest for life as you pass them on campus.
Check out this amazing selection of the Class of 2013.
To earn her associate degree from Mott Community College this year, Beverly Ross had to overcome two hurdles. The first was a cancer diagnosis she received three years prior. The second was her age, which, at 54, was well beyond the average age of most Mott students. Ross managed to climb over both those obstacles, accepting her diploma in social work just this month.
According to mLive, Ross was diagnosed with cancer in her thigh muscle in May 2009. Two muscles had to be removed and replaced with bolts, brackets, and screws. Ross also underwent intense chemotherapy treatment, which she was told could impact her ability to think. Ross decided to put that warning to the test and enrolled at Mott Community College soon after.
“I’m so excited with proving [the doctor] wrong,” Ross told mLive. “I’m smarter. I’m proving to be smarter to me. After all that, I’m happy I accomplished this. I believe I’m going to go farther in time.”
When Ross walked across the stage at her graduation recently, she had been cancer-free for three years. Although Ross said that earning a degree wasn’t about grades, she accepted her diploma with high honors and a 3.51-grade point average. Ross now basks in the satisfaction that she succeeded at something she did “all for herself.”
Mae Wilson spent most of her adult life raising children and earning a living. College simply wasn’t something she allowed herself to think about much. However, Wilson maintained a love of learning throughout her life, participating in workshops and attending seminars on a wide range of subjects whenever she could. She also encouraged her children to excel in school and she treasures all of their high school diplomas to this day.
However, Reminder News reports that Wilson never gave up the desire to go to college completely. When she had the chance, she finally took it. Now, Wilson is graduating from Three Rivers Community College with an associate degree in human services – at the age of 71.
Her quest for higher education began in the 1990s. At the time, Wilson told her boss that she wanted to go to school, but she had no money for tuition. She asked him to help her and he said he would. After her employer paid for her first class, Wilson’s path to a degree was set in motion.
“I was leaving work two days a week,” Wilson recalls. “I would be on campus for two hours. I would work ‘til 4:30 and come home and take care of my family. I tried to be a part of my children’s life, part of the sports activities at school.”
Although she has successfully earned her degree, Wilson is long retired from the workforce. Today, she uses the knowledge she gained in a wide variety of service projects that keep her busy all week long. Wilson encourages adults of any age to head back to school and get their education, because “pursuing higher education is a wonderful privilege. To have the opportunity to improve one’s mind is always a blessing.”
This year, the oldest student on the record books will walk across the stage at Lakeland Community College to accept his diploma. Robert Zonneville set the school record at the ripe old age of 88, 10 years after retiring from the working world. The World War II veteran said he decided to go to college at the prompting of his late wife, in honor of her memory.
Zonneville served in World War II fighting on the front lines and earning two Purple Hearts, which he was recently awarded. After the war, Zonneville made his place in the trucking industry, working his way up from the loading dock to the office of CEO. Although Zonneville created his own success without higher education, he told the News-Herald that was very unusual at the time. Most executives of companies had a college degree.
Zonneville said the decision to enroll in college at the age of 85 wasn’t an easy one. He told the News-Herald, “When I drove over that first day, I was 85 then…what are the kids going to react to an 85-year-old guy with white hair. What’s going to happen? I was actually a little nervous.”
However, Zonneville was easily accepted by most of the students he encountered, with many of them stating Zonneville was an inspiration and encouragement to them throughout their college years. Zonneville responds to their claims, saying, “I’ve been getting a lot of plaudits from the school, that I’ve been an inspiration to the kids, that I’ve helped a lot of them. But a lot of kids helped me.”
The Class of 2013 is living proof that you are never too young – or too old – for more education. Their lives have served as living inspirational examples of just what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it at any phase of life.
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