If you’re only as old as you feel, Rodlynn Cheetham was in her mid-20s last week at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s spring convocation ceremonies – the biggest ever for the university with almost 1,000 students graduating.
Dressed in the traditional graduation cap and gown, Cheetham appeared much the same as the other young women in the Faculty of Arts who sat waiting for the cue to walk across the stage at the Surrey campus auditorium and accept their undergraduate degrees.
Like theirs, Cheetham’s smile stretched from ear to ear.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Cheetham and her classmates in that moment was this: Cheetham’s flat-heeled shoes were far more sensible than their stilettos. At 69, she’d learned a thing or two about the price the feet pay for a day spent in heels.
“When I started I was mother to most of those students but completed my degree being grandmother to many of the professors,” Cheetham beamed.
Cheetham’s educational journey began nearly 20 years when she emigrated from South Africa to Surrey in 1990 and opened her own daycare. She graduated from KPU the first time in 1997 with a diploma in early childhood education, and from then on she was hooked on learning.
Working 12 hours a day at her daycare and taking one or two courses per semester, Cheetham chipped away at her BA in psychology for 18 years.
“I forgot my age, and the fact that my grey hair was slowly turning white,” said Cheetham. “My life experience made studying rewarding. It was now an interest rather than a means to acquire a profession.”
Cheetham was fascinated by the year-to-year changes in information and technology alone; she found it “mentally refreshing,” and it made her eager to learn more and to integrate with students who were half and sometimes just over a quarter her age.
Cheetham’s proud family attended her convocation last week. Daughter Tammy Johnson said her mom’s tenacity and determination never wavered as she pursued her degree while working and raising her family.
“Most of us would have given up, but my mom loves education and believes it’s important regardless of your age and now, as a senior, she believes it has the added bonus of keeping her young and her mind alert.”
Reflecting on the last 18 years, Cheetham credits her family, her instructors and her fellow students for helping her achieve her goals, and she considers herself living proof that anything is possible, at any age.
Asked what’s up next for the studious senior, Cheetham replied: “I think I shall start another degree.”