Posted: May 11, 2005 10:30 am EST

70-year-old grad symbolizes perseverance (~23 col. in.)
by Danielle Rush, The Kokomo (Ind.) Tribune
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    By Danielle Rush
    CNHI News Service

    KOKOMO, Ind. — Nancy Caster started working on her bachelor’s degree at Indiana University Kokomo before many of her classmates were born.
    Tuesday, she finally reached a 24-year goal, earning a degree in general studies, just days before her 71st birthday.
    “I didn’t know if I’d wake up and it would be a dream,” she said.
    Caster was among a record 529 students who graduated at Tuesday’s outdoor graduation ceremony.
    Chancellor Ruth Person noted four of the graduates began their studies in the late 1960s, showing their younger classmates “it’s never too late for anyone to complete what they started, however long ago.”
    Person also commended student body leaders, saying, “excellent models have been developed for other classes to follow.”
    Donald Andrews, student body president, urged his fellow graduates to take the leadership roles expected of them as college graduates and said that while the world needs leaders, it also needs “those to care for the generation who have taken care of us.”
    Andrews also thanked his classmates in the nursing program, saying that as the only male student in a class of 24, he learned “a woman’s perspective on life.”
    Indiana University President Adam W. Herbert told graduates they must develop “a creative relationship with change.”
    He cited a new book, “The World is Flat,” by New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, which argues the global playing field is being leveled by the laying of fiber optic cable across the ocean floor, cheaper computers and e-mail software and search engines that allow instant worldwide communication.
    “In this flat world, knowledge is the new economic currency. A nation’s destiny will be shaped by the education, ambition and entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens.
    Today’s graduates now rank among their nation’s most valuable resources,”
    Herbert said, noting only 18 percent of Americans finish college, and only 7 percent receive master’s degrees.
    He urged the graduates to commit to a process of lifelong learning, develop an ethical framework to guide them through life, develop their own measures for success other than titles or salaries, and to promote diversity.
    “As you chart the course for your future, you can do no better that to embrace the familiar values of hard work and tenacity that have sustained generations of Hoosiers,” Herbert said.
    As each graduate crossed the stage to accept his or her diploma, Herbert had a few words for each one. For Caster, he had compliments for her perseverance through illnesses to earn her degree.
    Caster took her first class at IU Kokomo when it was still in the Seiberling Mansion, after graduating from Kokomo High School in 1952. Marriage and motherhood kept her from earning a degree, and then she went to work in an office job at Haynes International.
    “When I was in school, all my teachers would say, ‘you’re college material,’” she said. “It always stayed in my mind, they must really have faith in me.”
    She started taking more classes in 1981 and began working in earnest on her bachelor’s degree after she retired in 1991.
    She found retirement boring after two weeks and decided “let’s either go someplace and work or let’s go back to school.”
    She also worked until she qualified for Social Security, then stopped working to concentrate on school.
    Caster said her journey hasn’t been easy — she’s survived uterine cancer and breast cancer, and three years ago was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
    “I thought my career was over when I got the Parkinson’s, but I can still use the computer. Fortunately, my Parkinson’s is the kind that isn’t the shaky kind,” she said, noting that Parkinson’s sufferers are usually either shaky or still. She takes medication for the symptoms.
    “Once I got that under control, I can’t tell you how much better I feel,” she said.
    She believes going to school gave her a reason not to give up when she had cancer and when she received her Parkinsons diagnosis.
    Caster said her daughter, Kimberly Stephenson, deserves some credit for her success. She and her daughter live together in Kokomo.
    “She has been a godsend to me, an angel. She just encourages me and supports me to be the best I can be. She never let me give up.”
    Stephenson attended Tuesday’s ceremony, along with Caster’s sisters, and cheered as her mother slowly climbed the stairs and walked across the stage to accept her long-awaited diploma.
    Another person Caster credits with instilling a love of learning was not there to cheer, and that was her mother, Jane (Jerrel) Arbuckle, who died at age 44.
    “She would have been one of the proudest mothers who ever walked,” Caster said.
    She said as a girl, her mother encouraged her to keep a dictionary close while reading, so if she found a word she didn’t know, she could look it up. She said that training served her well in her English classes.
    Now that she’s a college graduate, Caster wants to get a job, so she can replace her 1990 Chrysler New Yorker with another DaimlerChrysler product. Her academic career isn’t over, though — she’s already enrolled in IU Kokomo’s master of arts in liberal studies program for fall semester.

    Danielle Rush writes for The Kokomo (Ind.) Tribune.

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