Claire Ritchey graduates high school with 85 years of experience

It’s an achievement 85 years in the making. On Sunday, May 26, 85-year-old Claire Ritchey graduated from Parkview Adventist Academy

LIFETIME LEARNER - At the age of 85

LIFETIME LEARNER - At the age of 85

It’s an achievement 85 years in the making.

On Sunday, May 26, 85-year-old Claire Ritchey graduated from Parkview Adventist Academy to receive her high school diploma, nearly seven decades after she first completed Grade 11.

“It was exciting,” said Ritchey, who crossed the stage and embraced her principal after receiving her diploma while onlookers cheered and applauded.

“People were very supportive.”

It was clear during the ceremony that Ritchey did have a lot of support. From the students and staff who rose to their feet when she crossed the stage, to the number of strangers who told her what an inspiration she was. Ritchey added that she had several friends and family members in attendance at the graduation and the her two sons and her daughter (who she Skypes with every night) have been very supportive as well.

Born in Alberta but living in British Columbia most her life, Ritchey completed Grade 11 in Kelowna. Because the school she was then enrolled in did not offer Grade 12 the next year, Ritchey came to Lacombe in 1944 to take her Grade 12 at what was then Canadian Junior College.

However, Ritchey discovered that, because of the varied education requirements between B.C. and Alberta, she would not be able to take Grade 12 in Alberta without re-doing Grade 11 in Alberta first.

While she did complete Grade 11 a second time, she left school to get married before completing Grade 12 and receiving her high school diploma.

“I didn’t like that,” said Ritchey. “That bothered me all my life. I’d dream about going back to school.”

Ritchey said she did contact different provincial departments of education to find out what she would need to do to finish high school, but she felt it was beyond her reach at the time. Still Ritchey did not let her unfinished goal get in the way of her life. While it would still be years before she would complete her high school education, she did enroll in a community college where she studied accounting and had a career in that field for over 30 years.

In 2008, Ritchey returned to Alberta with husband. She said the decision to move back to Lacombe was made so that she could be closer to her two sons who also live in the community, especially since her husband’s health had begun to decline.

It was then that one of her sons suggested that Ritchey go take a free class at CUC. That led to Ritchey taking art classes at PAA.

Eventually, she thought this might be her chance to finish high school and asked what needed to be done so she could receive her diploma.

It was a question that had PAA and Alberta Education stumped. Ritchey said that, because of her experience, Alberta Education was willing to grant her a diploma without her needing to take any additional classes.

However, Ritchey wanted to actually do something in order to complete her education, so the province recommended she continued taking art classes. Thus, after completing Art 10, 20 and 30, Ritchey received her high school diploma from PAA.

While it was certainly different being in classrooms full of people two generations younger than her, Ritchey said that the age gap didn’t really bother her. In fact, she rather liked it. “I enjoyed being with the young people,” said Ritchey. “They accepted me and I met some lovely people.”

Ritchey added that one of the more enjoyable experiences about going back to school was being able to graduate alongside her grandson, Adam Ritchey.

Earning a high school diploma has had other benefits as well. Ritchey said her art classes and completing her goal of high school graduation have been helping her cope since her husband died in November of last year. She said art, an activity she thoroughly enjoyed learning and loves practicing, has helped fill the void. “I’m coping quite well and it’s because of this, because of my art.”

Now that she has checked off getting her diploma, Ritchey said she has other goals she wishes to complete. Among them is to rediscover her love of music.

She said she would like to begin playing the alto horn again and re-learn to play the clarinet. Ritchey added that she has also played piano and organ and wants to play the pipe organ at CUC.