You're never too old — 99-year-old receives first-ever honorary high school diploma

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Irene Russell was forced to leave Magee Secondary before the Second World War to take care of her siblings

It's never too late and you're never too old.

That was the message at a ceremony at Magee Secondary in Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon, as 99-year-old Irene Russell became the first ever recipient of an honorary high school diploma in B.C.

 

Russell attended Magee Secondary school in Vancouver but was forced to drop out before she would have started Grade 12. 

Her parents passed away in the late 1930s, shortly before the start of the Second World War and she left school to take care of her siblings. 

The ceremony, the first of its kind, was a total surprise to her, co-ordinated by family and school board officials. She walked in to her old school, which has since been rebuilt, to find a high school orchestra and a slew of school officials ready to present her degree.

"[I'm] just so overwhelmed, I can hardly take it all in. What have I done to deserve this?" she said after the ceremony.

"All I had to do was keep on living."

Russell said she always regretted that she wasn't able to graduate high school and that she was always proud to have attended Magee Secondary.

"I guess this makes me feel, maybe it wasn't really my fault. It was just life, the way it happens," she said. "The war came along and it changed everybody's lives."

'A beautiful person'

Andrew Schofield, the principal of Magee Secondary, said he first heard from Russell's family, and contacted the ministry, which immediately got on board to recognize her.

"I think she's a beautiful person. She makes a wonderful representative of Magee Secondary and public education and it's an honour to be able to do this for her and for the family," he said.

"I think it reaches to the heart of what we're trying to do in public schools ... it's an opportunity to show the kids what it [all] about, living in a community and taking care of each other."

During the ceremony, one school official joked that now that Russell had officially graduated, she should soon start thinking about post-secondary education — and Russell answered that she'd sure like to try.

"I have to be honest and say I wish I had worked harder and studied more," she said.

"I guess what's really important is how we live our lives rather than how many certificates we have."

CBC News ·