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IN MY EYES: The 87-year old graduate

It’s really hard to adjust to a neighborhood where people don’t value education as a means of escaping poverty and hard farm life.

You see, people don’t think the same, fellas, as many are still stuck in the culture of he 70s and 80s when ICT was low and education was not a priority among antique barangay folks. Many are still contented merely eating 3x a day, get things done at home and drink to the max every evening.

Mang Maing grew up in a good neighborhood, but when he married his wife and started to live independently in a not-so-quite remote barangay, his troubles began.

His newfound home was a community of semi-depressed people, many of whom are the work and drink type, then make trouble afterwards. Most of their kids did not or do not go to high school or college and eventually, when these kids grew up, they just succeeded their fathers and became the work and drink type also.

This portion of the community has very little value for education. A family usually consists of 5 to 7 kids with the mothers as ignorant or as adamant as their husbands about family planning. Naturally, more delinquent kids swell in the community. It has become a common sight of parents drinking in the afternoon until early morning and singing through the videoke volumed to the max, disturbing the neighborhood of their supposed-to-be early evening sleep. Then, suddenly, shouts of invectives reverberate in the air and curious neighbors aroused from their sleep are suddenly disturbed again of the drunks fighting each other. Mang Maing wonders why these people could drink, smoke, buy pulutan and hire a videoke for P400 overnight but they don’t have the money to send their kids to high school or buy rice.

I always remember what my late teacher-grandmother said: Whatever happens, get a decent education, because the more you are educated, the more disciplined you will be.  This is an adage long-forgotten in Mang Maing’s present place and so, upon arrival from work in the afternoon, he would just attend to his little veggie garden, enjoy the sumptuous dinner while viewing the early evening news, then he says it quits for the day.

One time, Mang Maing was able to talk to a friendlier neighbour heart to heart. Their topic was education as the only means to get out of depression and to have a better family in the future.

“I’m too old for that,” was all the answer he got back. In other words, education in this place is just taken for granted and not a way to escape from the burdens brought about by the hardships of life.

But is education too late for people in their 20s, 30s or 40s, fellas?

And so, that answer reminds me of the true story of an 87-year-old woman named Rose which was shared by one Susan Gregg who had since forgotten the real author. Anyway the story goes like this:

During the first day of school, our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn’t know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder.

I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being.

She said, “Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I’m eighty-seven 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 with a wide smile.

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 at her age.

“I always dreamed of having a college education and now I’m getting one!” she told me.

After class we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake.

We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months we would leave class together and talk nonstop. I was always mesmerized listening to this “time machine” as she shared her wisdom and experiences with me.

Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her by 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. When you lose your dreams, you die. We have so many people walking around who are dead and don’t even know it! There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up. If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don’t do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn eighty-eight. Anybody can grow older. That doesn’t take any talent or ability. 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. The only people who fear death are those with regrets.”

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.

These words have been passed along in loving memory of ROSE who taught all these important lessons to everyone, young or old, rich or poor: Remember, growing older is mandatory. Growing up is optional. We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give. God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage. If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.

So, wanna grow up, fellas?

Then, get education by any means and find that opportunity to change.

If time changes everything, education changes people by time.

Just like Rose.#