It’s mid-May and graduation season is in full swing! Everywhere you look, students are receiving their diplomas, commencing the next stage of opportunity and growth. However, these new grads aren’t ALL spring chickens. Around the country, elders – both human and canine – are proving that age is no deterrent for education and development.
Yours truly is just one example: I was 14.5 years old when I became certified as a therapy dog with Pals for Life, and I was 15 years old when I became started working as a humane educator.
This leads me to the first “Eldergrad” I want to recognize: my sister, Martha Washington, an 8.5-year-old Pit Bull who’s debunking the myth that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Martha graduated this week from “Basic Manners” class at Opportunity Barks with an army of new tricks! The oldest dog in the class by at least 5 years, she mastered “sit,” “stay,” “come,” and “down” at rocket speed. And she’s not resting on her laurels: Martha is already training to become a certified therapy dog with Pals for Life! I have no doubt we’ll be doing visits together in the near future.
Martha is in great physical shape (she ran 8 miles with our Dad last month!), but I’m not as lucky. At nearly 16 years of age, I have severe arthritis that makes walking nearly impossible. However, I don’t let this stop me from doing therapy dog visits or volunteering as a humane educator.
The second “Eldergrad” I want to recognize didn’t let physical ailments stand in the way either. Lorene Rocker (shown below), an 80-year-old from Oklahoma, graduated this month from East Central University with a bachelor’s degree in counseling (click here for the full story)! Four years ago Lorene enrolled in college, but she had to miss a semester of classes her sophomore year because of blood clots in her lungs. She also has trouble walking long distances, which made it difficult to navigate a large campus. Yet Lorene persisted and she became the first person in her family to receive a college degree.
Lorene will now work as a counselor, helping older adults undergoing rehabilitation for addictions. Unlike younger graduates, Lorene’s age uniquely positions her to work with the older population she intends to serve. “I want to counsel people with addictions, but I really enjoy working with my age group because I understand them so well,” she said.
Reading Lorene’s quote reminds me of a therapy dog visit I did last winter, where my age was an asset rather than a handicap. I was visiting an elder who suffered from severe arthritis and could barely walk. When my Mom told her I also suffered from severe arthritis, the elder said she “knows firsthand how hard it is to get around with arthritis,” which made my visit “even more special.”
The third “Eldergrad” I want to recognize is Alice Thomas (shown above), of California (click here for the full story). At 79 years old, Alice recently became the oldest graduate to earn a law degree from the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Alice said part of the reason she attended law school was disgust over media portrayals of older adults as “doddering fools.”
As a dog labeled as a pit bull, I can relate to feeling disgusted with the negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media! Yes, Alice is indeed a doddering fool. And I am a blood-thirsty killer. (Of course, I’m not just a pit bull, but an older dog, too -- so I guess that makes me a doddering killer?) I became a therapy dog and a humane educator partly to counteract the negative images of pit bulls in the media. Through my actions and my accomplishments, I’m showing the world that every dog (just like every older adult) should be treated as a individual and not judged by myths and misinformation.
The list of “Eldergrads” could go on and on, so I’ll close by saying CONGRATULATIONS to my fellow elders, both canine and human!
And I’ll leave you with a Betty Friedan quote that inspires me to keep on keeping on:
“Aging is not ‘lost youth’ but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”
Sarge the Elderbull
PS: My Dad is graduating from Brooklyn Law School this month......although he's not exactly an "Eldergrad," I'm quite proud of his accomplishments, too! Good job, Dad!