British Columbia

70 years later, Kamloops senior finally earns high school diploma

"Maybe you won't get the best grades you want, but what the heck, just do it. It's a wonderful adventure. It really is,” said Theresa Walker, who encourages others to go back and earn their high school diploma.

When Theresa Walker was in her teens she stopped school because of family issues. She returned at age 84.

Theresa Walker stopped school when she was just in her teens because of family circumstances, but when she had children of her own and realized she couldn't help them with their homework she resolved to continue her education. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

At 84-years-old Theresa Walker of Kamloops decided that she was going to earn her grade 12 diploma. 

She originally stopped school upon completing grade 7, but now at 85, is crossing the stage June 6 as the oldest graduate the school district has ever had.

"When I started I thought, 'Oh my gosh, will I get through and what am I capable of?" Walker said.

"There was so much I'd forgotten ... I'd see a math teacher coming and I'd hide and he'd say, 'Are you hiding from me again?'

"And I'd say, 'Yeah, I'm busy erasing all my mistakes,'" she laughed.

'I made a terrible mistake'

Walker attended Street School, a continuing education program offered through the Kamloops-Thompson school district.

Walker's graduation certificate, which will be awarded to her on June 6, 2016 (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Walker said she always loved school as a child, but said that when her father returned home from the army and asked her mother for a divorce she decided to leave school.

"My father was from old country Germany where a woman stays at home and makes sauerkraut, looks after the kids and looks after the family so he thought that was OK. So of course at that time I thought, 'Oh boy this is wonderful, somebody's in my court,'" she said.

"But then the next year when I saw everybody go back to school, I realized I'd made a terrible mistake but I went on with my life."

Years later when Walker's own children were going to school, she realized she couldn't help them with their schoolwork and she starting taking out books from the local library and bought textbooks to study on her own.

'She did the toughest five courses'

But it was only when she moved to Kamloops from Chilliwack after being widowed that she was finally able to take a program to earn her high school equivalency.

Literacy outreach worker Tonia Gillespie said Walker refused to accept any possible credit the school would give her because of her life experience, and instead "did the the toughest five courses that we had and she loved it." (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Though Walker could have possibly earned course credit for her life experience, she refused.

She ended up earning As in geography 12, B.C. First Nations studies 12, and geography 11, a B in communications 12 and a C in math 11.

"She went on full academics for all five of those courses. There was not an elective that was not an academic elective, so she did the toughest five courses that we had and she loved it," said Tonia Gillespie, a literacy outreach worker at the Twin Rivers Education Centre.

"I mentioned that she was an inspiration to a lot of our students. 'That's nice,' she said, 'however I'm inspired by all of the younger students because I could not have done what they are doing at their age. I had to wait until this point in my life to come back and go to school.' She said, 'I'm inspired by the young people in the program.'

"I think it's the other way round."

Though she is still figuring out what she wants to do after graduation, Walker plans to volunteer and possibly encourage other people to go back and finish high school like she did.

"Maybe you won't get the best grades you want, but what the heck, just do it. It's a wonderful adventure. It really is."

With files from CBC's Daybreak Kamloops

​To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: 85-year-old Kamloops woman earns her grade 12 certification