It’s been a long time since Theresa Walker sat in a classroom.
The 85-year-old woman dropped out of school in the 1940s when she was only in Grade 8–a decision she would live to regret.
“I was very, very sorry that I [dropped out],” she said. “Because once you did at that time, you couldn’t go back.”
Walker’s departure from the education system came at a difficult time. Her father had just returned from the Second World War and said that he wanted a divorce. While Walker’s dad supported her decision to leave school–because he was a traditional man who believed a woman’s place was at home–her mother didn’t.
“There I was in the middle,” Walker said. “Nobody to talk to, and that was the reason I left school; no one to talk to.”
As her life went on, Walker felt as though her decision to drop out was holding her back. That’s why, after more than 70 years away from class, she decided to enrol in the Kamloops Thompson School District’s Street School program for adult learners.
Obviously, that was a pretty nerve-wracking decision for Walker to make, but she said support from both staff and the other students at the school made it that much easier. To her credit, the school even offered her passing grades for several courses just for her life experience, but she refused to accept them. Walker, naturally, wanted to do it the old fashioned way.
“It’s just incredibly inspiring. We’re always pushing people to step outside their comfort zone, and going back to school at 85 years old epitomizes taking a risk and getting out of that comfort zone to pursue something,” Principal Kent Brewer said.
All these years later, Walker can safely say that nothing is holding her back anymore. The 85-year-old proudly strutted across a stage this week to the sound of applause and cheering to accept her diploma. Walker also became the oldest person to graduate from the program.
“I loved it from the very beginning. Loved being back in school, loved doing the work, just everything about it. Wonderful adventure,” she said.
You can see the entire ceremony, along with the reaction from Walker’s family, in the video above.