Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” If that’s the case, 80-year-old Loretta Parker, of Aurora, is one of Waubonsee Community College’s youngest students. For the way in which Parker has re-entered higher education with determination, tackled new technology with tenacity, and set an inspirational example for her fellow students, faculty and staff alike, Waubonsee is proud to name her the college’s Student Success: Featured Student for May.
“As long as my mind is alert and my body is able, what’s to keep me from doing what I want to do?” asked Parker.
And what she wanted to do after losing her husband in 2013 was to remain active and learn how to use a computer, a machine she had previously only been using to keep track of his medical appointments and instructions. She called Waubonsee, and after learning a little more decided, “if I was going to learn to use the computer, I figured I may as well get a piece of paper when I’m all done.”
Parker’s new goal became to earn an Associate in Applied Science Degree in Administrative Office Systems. And when she walks across the Paramount Theatre’s stage on May 21 to officially receive that piece of paper, it won’t be her first. She already holds an associate degree from Waubonsee, which she earned in 1983, as well as a bachelor’s degree in psychology from what was then Aurora College, now Aurora University.
But the college experience was a bit different this time around for Parker, starting with the dress code.
“Casual is the word,” Parker said, speaking of her younger classmates. “I have seen more flip-flops than I could have imagined in a lifetime.”
And of course the modes of learning and the technology used have changed as well. “This is the 21st century,” Parker said. “There is no textbook, there is a computer. I don’t turn in an actual paper, I submit it on a computer.”
While all this didn’t make Parker rethink her decision, it did cause some doubts.
“When Loretta came to us last year, she was worried she would not be able to succeed,” said Steven Skaggs, Professor of Business and Information Systems at Waubonsee. “Her worries were unfounded as she demonstrated tremendous courage, determination and perseverance in overcoming every obstacle in her path. She is one of the brightest students I’ve ever had in my class.”
Parker sums up her determination in her own words thusly: “I never give up on anything. Everything that comes up, I go ahead and try it. I won’t say I can’t do something, only that I haven’t done it yet.”
Of course, she also knows she hasn’t done all this alone and is quick to give credit to a variety of faculty, including Steven Skaggs and Dave Easton, Associate Professor of Information Systems, as well as other academic coaches, tutors and Waubonsee staff members.
“I would tell everybody to not be afraid to ask for help,” Parker said. “I haven’t met anyone yet at Waubonsee who was too busy to help or who told me it wasn’t their job.”
And for all those who have helped Parker, they’ve gotten something in return.
“I am inspired [by Loretta],” said Susan Merriman, Writing Tutor at Waubonsee. “At her age, she runs circles around the rest of us and with such grace and gratitude for our help at the Tutoring Center. She is a remarkable woman, student and truly a leader!”
Parker also inspires and helps her fellow students.
“As a student, Loretta is dedicated and always strives for excellence,” said Academic Coach Melanie Vidlak. “She is more than willing to lend other students a hand and has ample wisdom to share because of both her new-found knowledge and her many life experiences.”
And if Parker has anything to say about it, those life experiences will just keep piling up. While she admits she’ll take about a month after graduation to just sit and relax, she’s already making plans to attend the college’s Kendall County Job/Resource Fair in June.