She said, “Hi handsome. I’m Rose. I’m 87 years old. Can I give you a hug?”
I laughed and enthusiastically responded, “Of course you may!” and she gave me a giant squeeze.
“Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?” I asked.
She jokingly replied, “I’m here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids.”
“No seriously,” I asked. I was curious! What may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge now.
“I always dreamed of having a college education and now I’m getting one!”After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake. We became instant friends and this continued for the next three months. I was mesmerized listening to this “time machine” as she shared her wisdom and experience.
Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up.
At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet. I’ll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor.
Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply 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 just 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. There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You’ve got to have a dream. There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up. Anybody can grow older. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity in change. Have no regrets. The elderly usually don’t have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do.
She concluded her speech by courageously singing “The Rose.” She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives.
At the year’s end, Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those years ago. One week after graduation Rose died peacefully in her sleep. Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it’s never too late to be all you can possibly be.
Reprinted from Grace Drops, Volume 8 (2010).