During her lifetime, 99-year-old College of the Canyons graduate Doreethea Daniels has lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights movement, the moon landing, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and now the digital information age.
But with all the drama the past has offered, Daniels had yet to be presented with a challenge quite like earning her associate degree.
Nonetheless, as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma, Daniels basked in the accomplishment of her ambitious goal of earning a degree before turning 100.
“There will be some tears of accomplishment for sure,” said Daniels, who will hold the record for being the oldest COC graduate in the college’s 45-year history. “I understand that to earn a degree in college at age 99, that’s a bit unusual.”
In spring 2009, Daniels began taking courses at the college’s Canyon Country campus. She had always lived life to the fullest and achieved many things, but never completed her education. She just had to scratch this item off the bucket list.
Surrounded by students typically ranging in age from 18 to 24 years old, Daniels was without question an outlier. As a result, she had to overcome a number of associated challenges on her educational journey.
Seemingly routine tasks, such as driving to school and traversing the campus, took considerably more effort to coordinate for Daniels than the average student.
Other challenges were the necessity for computer literacy in order to complete modern college courses, and issues related to hearing class lectures and keeping pace with other students.
But she persevered — even when that meant venturing into the often-dreaded arena of college-level math and statistics courses.
“It’s been 63 years since I’ve taken algebra even,” said Daniels at the time. “But I’ve learned a lot.”
Recognizing these challenges, Daniels simply worked harder. And now, that work has paid off.
Twice a week, she’d be found studying, doing homework and working with tutors at the campus’ Tutoring & Learning Center (TLC) — all before class even started.
Touted as “one of the most dedicated and hardworking students in the class” Daniels passed the statistics course in fall 2014, and began her final semester at COC in the spring.
Along the way she completed an internship in the college’s Counseling Department — again routinely arriving 20 minutes early each day to begin completing her assigned tasks.
She has also formed some lasting friendships during her time at COC.
“Doreetha is a living testament to the saying ‘if there is a will, there is a way,’” said COC counseling faculty member Liz Shaker, who helped Daniels navigate the process of fulfilling her graduation requirements. “Her desire to get out of bed each day and come to school and face the challenges in and outside of the classroom inspired us all. She is truly an amazing woman who has impacted my life and I feel so fortunate that I was able to experience her journey alongside her.”
Since arriving at the college in 2009, she has served as a continued source of inspiration to students, college staff and community members of all ages.
Last month, Daniels took the opportunity to reflect on the importance of education, when she asked to speak to some of her fellow students as part of a ‘Career and Life Planning’ course at the college.
“It seems like the iPhones in their lap are sometimes more important to students than what’s going on in the classroom,” said Daniels. “I think somebody needs to say something or something needs to happen to show the younger ones how special and unique their opportunity to learn is.”