An 85-year-old great-grandmother received her high school diploma more than six decades after leaving the classroom behind.
Claire Ritchey was one of 37 graduates from Parkview Adventist Academy who were awarded for their hard work last week in Lacombe.
Ritchey said receiving her diploma was a dream come true.
“My husband died in November and it left a real void,” said Ritchey. “It filled it quite well. You can do something and get your mind on something else. And if I can inspire other people to go back to school and students to continue, it has been worth it.”
In 1944, Ritchey had just completed Grade 11 when she left Kelowna to go to a boarding school in Lacombe.
Ritchey expected she would automatically go into Grade 12 but the grades were not transferable so she had to take Grade 11 classes. She stayed for the year and was a few courses short of a diploma when she left in 1945.
After returning to Kelowna, Ritchey went to college for accounting, worked in that field for about 30 years and raised a family.
When her husband Don’s health took a bad turn in 2008, the couple moved to Lacombe. Her two sons, Jerrold and Landon, were working at Canadian University College.
Ritchey said they encouraged her to take classes. She signed up for some art classes and eventually thought to take courses that would lead to a diploma.
School officials said the art classes combined with her life experience, work experience and credits would be enough for a diploma.
Ritchey said she wasn’t nervous going back to school after all these years. She said her 16-, 17- and 18-year-old classmates welcomed her with open arms.
Ritchey said some called her grandma and others gave her big hugs.
“It hit me a year and a half ago,” said Ritchey. “I think God put it in my mind to do it because it was exactly what I needed to do.”
Relatives from Kelowna, Seattle, Portland, Montana, Spokane and Lacombe attended the ceremony. Her grandson, Adam, 18, was also part of the 2013 graduating class.
Ritchey has three children, six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.