Note: This news release was updated, and the photo above added, to reflect that Doreetha Daniels did in fact receive her college degree.
During her lifetime, 99-year-old College of the Canyons graduate and Agua Dulce resident Doreetha Daniels has lived through the Great Depression, World War II and the fall of Nazi Germany, the Civil Rights movement, the moon landing, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and end of the Cold War and, and most recently, the ushering in of the digital information age.
But with all the drama the past has offered, Daniels — originally from North Platte, Neb. — had yet to be presented with a challenge quite like earning her associate degree.
On Friday, June 5, that dream was fulfilled as Daniels walked across the stage and accomplished her goal of earning a college degree before her 100th birthday.
She also cemented her legacy as a College of the Canyons first, holding the record for being the oldest graduate in the college’s history.
“There will be some tears of accomplishment for sure,” Daniels said during an interview prior to commencement. “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 with a goal to earn her degree and walk at graduation.
To those who may have wondered why Daniels would pursue such a goal so late in life, Daniels simply explained she had always lived life to the fullest, and achieved many things, but never completed her education.
While most students attend college to earn a degree with the hope of launching a career or enhancing their skillset in order to climb the corporate ladder, Doreetha came to COC with the simple goal of bettering herself.
Surrounded by students typically ranging in age from 18 to 24, 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.
In the classroom, other challenges presented themselves — namely the necessity of computer literacy in order to complete modern college courses. Daniels also experienced 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,” Daniels said. “But I’ve learned a lot.”
Recognizing these challenges, Daniels simply worked harder. That work paid off.
Twice a week, she could be found studying, doing homework and working with tutors at the campus’ Tutoring & Learning Center (TLC) — all before class even started.
Described as “one of the most dedicated and hardworking students in the class,” Daniels passed the statistics course in the fall of 2014 and began her final semester this past spring.
Along the way she completed 1-unit internship in the Counseling Department — again routinely arriving 20 minutes early each day to begin completing her assigned tasks.
She also formed some lasting friendships.
“Doreetha is a living testament to the saying, ‘If there is a will, there is a way,’ ” said 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.”
Daniels’ story is an example of the type of unbridled ambition that is all too rare in today’s world.
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,” Daniels said. “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.”
By earning her degree and graduating, Daniels did just that.