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Open Features: Growing Old

Ken Patterson's tale offers the soundest of sound advice of a happy and fear-free life.

On the first day of school our professor introduced himself then challenged us to get to know someone we didn't already know.

I stood up to look around. A gentle hand touched my shoulder. I turned to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming at me. Her smile 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 can."

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, have a couple of kids..."

"No seriously?" I asked. I wanted to know what had motivated her to take on such a challenge at her age.

"I always dreamed of having a college education and now I'm getting one," she said.

After class we walked together 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, talking non-stop. I was mesmerised listening to this "time machine" as she shared her wisdom and experience with me.

Over the course of the year Rose became a campus icon. She made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she revelled in the attention bestowed upon her by 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 accidentally 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.

"Here are a few secrets on how to stay young, be happy and achieve success. You have to laugh and find humour 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 the opportunity in change.

"Have no regrets. We 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.

Remember, growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.

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