Our professor introduced himself on the first day and challenged us to get to know someone we had not previously met. As I stood up, a gentle hand touched my shoulder and I turned to find a wrinkled, old lady beaming up at me. Her smile lit up her entire being.
‘Hi handsome,’ she said. “My name is Rose and I’m 87 years old. Can I give you a hug?’
I laughed and responded enthusiastically. “Of course.”
‘Why are you at college at such a young age?’ I asked.
‘I’m here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids.
‘Seriously,’ I said. I was curious to know what had motivated her to take on this challenge at her age. “I’ve always dreamed of having a college education and now I’m getting one,” was her reply.
After class, we walked to the student union building where we shared a chocolate milkshake. We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months, we left class together and talked nonstop. I was mesmerized while listening to this time machine as she shared her wisdom and experience with me.
Over the course of the year Rose became the campus icon and made friends wherever she went. She paid attention to the way she dressed and reveled in the attention bestowed on her from the other students. She was really living it up. At the end of the semester, we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet.
She stepped up to the podium after being introduced and as she was ready to deliver her prepared talk, she dropped her speech cards on the floor. Frustrated and a little embarrassed, she leaned into the microphone and said. ‘I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I’ll never get my speech back in order, so let me simply tell you what I know.’
As we laughed, she cleared her throat and began.
‘We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing. Here are some secrets for staying young, being happy and achieving success.
- You have to laugh. Find humor every single day.
- You must have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die. We have so many people walking around who are dead and don’t even know it.
If you are 19 years old and lie in bed for one full year and don’t do a single productive thing, you will turn 20 years old.
BUT, if I an 87-year-old remains in bed for a year and never does anything, she will turn 88. Anybody can grow older. That doesn’t take talent nor ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity to change and to have no regrets:
‘The elderly don’t usually have regrets for what they did, but rather for the things they did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets.’
At the year’s end, Rose finished her college degree. One week after graduation she died peacefully in her sleep.
Over 2,000 college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who had taught by example that it’s never too late to be all you can possibly be.
The following was inscribed on her tombstone:
Growing older is mandatory.
Growing up is optional.
We make a living by what we get.
We make a life by what we give.