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Continuing Education

Why a 99 Year Old Headed Back to Class (and You Can Too)

Photo: Courtesy of Doreetha Daniels

As Doreetha Daniels approached her 100th birthday, she had another milestone in her mind: earning a college degree. So she set to work and checked off that major to-do list item with time to spare, receiving her associate’s degree in social sciences from the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, on June 5, 2015 — at age 99.

Doreetha’s rejection didn’t stop her life

In the early 1930s, Doreetha graduated from high school and moved with her mother from her home state of Nebraska to Venice, California. Daniels set her sights on a nursing degree, but when she found out her would-be program wasn’t accepting out-of-state students, she began working for the aerospace manufacturer McDonnell Douglas. Not long after, she met and married her husband, Robert, and the couple settled down in Agua Dulce, California, where they raised two sons, Robert, Jr. and Raymond.

For the next seven decades, Daniels stayed busy, remaining active in her community, traveling the world and mastering several crafts, including jewelry making and ceramics. Then, when she turned 90, she decided it was time for a new challenge. “I was a little bit bored with what I was doing,” she admits.

What spurred her decision to go back to school?

Doreetha’s grandchildren, who were going back to school for advanced degrees at the time, provided inspiration for her next big adventure. If they were doing it, Doreetha thought, she could too. So she began taking classes at the College of the Canyons in 2009 and resolved to earn her college degree before turning 100.

Though Doreetha is an outlier by any account, she does represent a larger trend of adult degree-seekers, who are heading back to the classroom for a myriad of reasons: to change careers, sharpen skills or seek out new passions. For Doreetha, the sense of accomplishment was achievement enough. Reflecting on the benefits of receiving an education late in life, she shares, “It’s the self-satisfaction. That I can do what I set out to do.”

A tough path up to her diploma

Doreetha’s achievement was hard-won, as she pushed forward in the face of setbacks such as a minor stroke and the loss of her driver’s license at age 97. She took the process at her own pace, enrolling in two classes at a time and always giving herself plenty of time to get to class and claim a seat right in front.

One of the most challenging aspects of the process for the matriarch was mastering the computer skills needed in today’s classroom. Still, with the help of her sons and grandchildren, she learned how to type up her homework and submit it online, use the web for research, send emails and build her online address book. But that doesn’t mean she’ll be Snapchatting her great-grandchildren any time soon. Now that class is out, she’s back to her preferred mode of communication: the telephone.

Not that she’s lost all of her tech skills, though. Now the 102-year-old is just putting them to more recreational use. What she’s learned since graduating? Daniels thinks, then admits with a giggle, “How to play more games on the computer.”

Emily Gawlak, [email protected]

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