The 10 (plus one) college graduates spotlighted here prove that you’re never too old to stop learning. One by one, they all are extraordinary people, thirsting for knowledge and refusing to spend this segment of their lives in quiet reflections of the past. So, a tip of the cap to every one of them, an inspiration to us all.
11. Willadene Zedan, 85
She left high school in 1943. Then, took a little break. Oh, and after a few (ha) years, received her bachelor’s degree from Marian University in Wisconsin on May 18, 2013.
“I was preparing myself for a new career,” the great-grandmother said of her degree. Now she is doctor’s assistant. Zedan, who lives in Fond du Lac, Wisc., took her first class at Marian University several years after her husband died in 1998. After realizing that she “loved the college atmosphere,” she gradually started taking up to four classes a semester, according to the Fond du Lac Reporter. Eventually, she declared her major in theology, which due to her strong spiritual faith, seemed like a “natural fit.”
10. Anne Martindell, 87
In June of 2002, the New Jersey Legislature honored Princeton resident Anne Martindell for graduating from Smith College at the age of 87. Martindell is also the only Smith graduate to have simultaneously received undergraduate and honorary degrees.
After graduating, she wrote a memoir called Never Too Late. Martindell’s interesting life story includes entering Smith as a first-year student, class of 1936, then dropping out a year later at the behest of her father, who didn’t approve of educated women. A long and varied career in politics followed, in which she served as a New Jersey state senator, the director of the office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and as United States ambassador to New Zealand and Western Samoa. Martindell also raised four children. In 1999, at age 84, Martindell re-entered Smith as an Ada Comstock Scholar and completed her degree in American studies.
9. Charlie Ball, 89
Charlie Ball started college in 1941, but his education was abruptly cut short when he enlisted to serve in WWII. But Charlie never forgot about how close he came to graduation. Almost a quarter-century later, 89-year-old Ball graduated from Arkansas Tech as the school’s oldest alumni.
”I joined the old Army Air Corps, and they sent me for pilot’s training down in Texas,” recalled Ball, in a 2012 interview. When the war ended, Charlie picked up a few classes here and there, and went to work with his father, but as the years went on and he became a grandpa, he knew he wanted to set an example. So, Ball worked with Tech to compile his transcripts. Ball’s personality made him easily the most popular student around. Everyone knew who he was, and they were all inspired by his story and that he never gave up.
8. Mary Fasano, 89
In 1997 Mary Fasano made news by becoming the oldest person ever to earn a Harvard degree when she graduated from 1997: the extension school at the age of 89.
Fasano worked as forelady at a sewing factory in Warren, R.I., where she met her husband, Arcangelo. After their first child was born, the couple moved to Braintree, Mass. Four more children were born after several years and the family started Fasano’s Diner, which they ran for 12 years. After a lifetime of working, the Fasanos sold the diner, and the family’s catering business was taken over by her children. Fasano retired, and decided to go back to school. She started by enrolling in Braintree High School in 1977, earning her high school diploma in 1979, at the age of 71.
She enrolled in the Harvard Extension School in 1979 after receiving encouragement from a friend who worked for the College. In 1993, after 14 years of studying art, Shakespeare, Italian, and many other subjects, Fasano received an associate’s degree from the Extension School and was awarded the Santo Joseph Aurelio Prize, an award “that recognizes academic achievement and character for undergraduate degree recipients over 50 years of age.”
7. (tie) Bertie Gladwin, 90
Gladwin became one of Britain’s oldest recorded graduates after he received his Masters degree in Intelligence History from Buckingham University. He embarked on his degree in Intelligence History and Bletchley Park Studies at the age of 89 together with his wife, who was then aged 77. “I feel very satisfied to think that I’ve done an MA at my age,” he said at the time. “When you’re 90, you sit around and not a lot happens, so it’s important to carry on learning and to broaden your horizons.”
Gladwin has been clocking up degrees for years. At the age of 60, he decided to undertake a BA in Psychology. By the time he was 70 he had also completed a BSc in Molecular Biology. “They’re fascinating subjects,” he says. “I did them just because I was interested in them and wanted to know more about them.”
6. (tie) Wally Taibleson, 90
Taibleson first attended college in 1993, at the age of 70. Since then, he’s gone on to earn a bachelor’s and three master’s degrees, the latest of which came just last year, at age 90. The oldest graduate in the history of the 23-campus California State University system, Taibleson is “a living, breathing rebuttal to anyone who thinks they can’t go back to school or achieve their goals,” says his son Jim.
Prior to his graduation ceremony, Taibleson told reporters he was proud to be earning his master’s degree in education. The 90-year-old grad said he lives by this quote: “As long as you’re learning, you’re not old.”
5. Cliff Dadson, 93
Dadson is inspiring in so many ways, having served in the Royal Air Force during World War Two and working as an electrical engineer. He was flown around the world to speak because of incredible level of expertise in his particular field.
He earned a college degree at age 93, a BA Open Degree in Arts from Open University, and became the oldest college graduate in Britain, beating out our #6, Bertie Gladwin. On his educational experience at the university, Dadson said “I spoke to many graduates from many different nations and backgrounds, all of whom were so much younger than I, but it made me feel young at heart.”
4. Allan Stewart, 97
Stewart, a retired dentist, received his fourth degree, a Masters of Clinical Science from Southern Cross University in New South Wales. He credits “time management” for achieving so much in the scholastic realm.
But Dr. Allan Stewart is no stranger to academia. Born in 1915, Stewart completed a degree in dentistry in 1936, but decided to return to school in his golden years to keep his mind sharp. He received that fourth degree in 2012.
3. (tie) Twila Boston, 98
Boston graduated from Utah State University with a bachelors in American Studies at 98-years-old. It was expected of us in our family to get an education,” says Twila Boston, but she never did get around to graduating. So, at age 98, she hunkered down and finally completed her degree in American Studies at Utah State University. Boston is the oldest person to graduate from Utah State University, and, as such, she has a bit of advice for all of us: “Go out in whatever you want, in whatever you want to do the rest of your life.”
2. (tie) Nola Ochs, 98
Probably the most famous (and adorable) golden grad around, with a 3.7 g.p.a. no less, 95-year-old Nola Ochs took home a degree in general studies with an emphasis in history from Fort Hays State University in 2007, graduating alongside her granddaughter Alexandra.
Eventually, Ochs went on to earn her master’s degree at age 98, making her the oldest recipient of a master’s degree in history (as of this writing).
1. Leo Plass, 99
Plass dropped out of college in 1932 when he was just 20. Then, at 99 years old, the Oregon resident finished what he started by receiving an Associates degree from Eastern Oregon University.
Plass set a world record in doing so. Just a few credits shy of a degree, Leo Plass quit school in 1932 to pursue a career in the logging industry. According to Plass, the pay was too good to pass up, but he never did forget his academic aspirations. Finally, in 2011, 99-year-old Plass earned his associates degree from East Oregon University.