Most graduations involve caps and gowns, lengthy speeches and a packed auditorium. The Thursday afternoon graduation at the Palmer Center, a local space for seniors, differed: It was 20 minutes long, casual and culminated in a raffle drawing and ice cream.
Seventeen seniors and their supporters gathered to celebrate the end of the 10-week Aging Mastery Program. They accepted certificates and applause as the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” was played, eliciting the group’s laughter.
The class’s curriculum, compiled by the National Council on Aging, centered on concepts such as sleep, nutrition, finances and community engagement.
Cathy Boyer-Shesol, a project manager for the sponsoring organization, the Mid-America Regional Council, summed up the course’s central outlook.
“Since life expectancy is longer now than it used to be, we should look at those extra years as a gift,” Boyer-Shesol remarked. “What are we going to do with that gift?”
This question can be answered by Palmer Center visitors like Jerry Adkins. SueAnn Strom, the aging mastery program coordinator at MARC, recalls her first impression of Adkins: the group’s resident jokester, who brought “a sparkle” to their meetings. Upon hearing stories about Adkins’s firefighter past, Strom and others encouraged Adkins to think beyond his former profession and into the future.
As a result, Adkins said he’s more focused on taking time to walk, eat healthy and cultivate friendships. Along with what he learned from the course itself, Adkins stressed how much he learned from its other participants.
“If you were a teenager looking into this group, you’d think, ‘Here’s a whole bunch of old cronies, what do they know?’ The truth is [that] everybody added to the course and gave their input,” Adkins reflected.
In fact, participants responded to the open statement “I believe aging mastery is…” on the last day of the course. Cheryl DeHaan, a facility supervisor for the Palmer Center, read these responses during the event. Seniors described aging mastery as “communication,” “a way to meet people,” “a reminder of what we need to do and how to do it” and “a starting point,” among other answers.
Going forward, people interested in taking the Aging Mastery Program still have a chance. The Palmer Center’s next session begins July 10 and ends Sept.11, with courses occurring from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesday mornings.