Residents beam with pride when graduating from Chartwell's Westmount Academy

It’s never too late to learn. That was the theme of the day at Chartwell Westmount Long Term Care Residence in Kitchener, Ontario, where a group of a dozen “students” donned their caps and gowns at a well-attended commencement ceremony celebrating their successful completion of courses at Chartwell’s Westmount Academy. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as fellow onlookers, including family members, friends, residents and staff, cheered on the grads as they proudly obtained their coveted certificates of education.

The seeds of the Academy were sown over a year ago when residents began sharing personal stories about their lack of formal education due to life circumstances such as war, work and family responsibilities. “I had to stay home to do farm work rather than go to school,” recalls one resident, Ken Sangster.

Many residents expressed similar feelings of disappointment for having missed out on such an important milestone in their lives. “When we realized how many residents felt the same way, we knew there was an opportunity to create something special,” says Amie Wilker, Administrator at Chartwell Westmount Long Term Care.

A planning session was held where the school name was agreed upon and the requirements for successful completion were outlined. Residents began attending classes on a variety of subjects including astronomy, anatomy, history, politics, languages and technology over a 35-week period. They participated in weekly lectures, field trips, quizzes and even had homework assignments like any traditional classroom. “The homework wasn’t too bad. It was remembering to do it that was the challenge,” jokes Ken.

As the twelve graduating residents were called up to receive their certificates, they shared a few words of how much this program has meant to them.

“I watched my daughter graduate and I never thought that I would be doing anything like this,” shared Beverly Franklin. “I thought there were more important things in the world than to have an education at that time.”

One resident was particularly proud to be graduating in the same year as her grandson and another that had dropped out 62 years earlier couldn’t have been happier to fulfill his goal.

The Academy was a clear success, so much so that the residence has decided to continue its venture into informal education with a Master’s program starting in September! But for now, it’s all about celebrating the graduating class of 2017 and those who accomplished a goal they never thought possible.

12 residents sit in chairs or wheelchairs in full cap and gowns, holding graduation certificates

In photo: The 2017 graduating class of Westmount Academy.

This story was originally published by Chartwell Retirement Residences and has been reposted with permission.