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Lessons From the Wise

by Rebecca Rhodes

Time is measured by the ticking hands of a clock. As a student, it marks the end of English class, acts as a deadline for assignments or allows a moment of laughter while passing a friendly face in the hall. For one student at WVU Parkersburg, time is the moment for change and a challenge.

Sharon O’Neill is the oldest attending student at WVU Parkersburg. Born Feb. 6, 1936, Sharon is…well, do the math on that one.

Age does not stand in the way of her obtaining a Regents Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis in history. After graduation, Sharon would like to become a teacher’s aid.

“I am one of those who has a bucket list. Coming to WVUP is at the top of that bucket list because it is so very important to receive as much education as you can to better yourself,” Sharon said.

Sharon is credentialed in secretarial science by Mountain State College. She worked as a Wood County Board of Education secretary for four years.

In 2008, Sharon retired from the Bureau of Fiscal Service with 34 years of service. It only took one year before she realized that it was time to go back to school.

Sharon lives by four R’s that have brought her to this college: Re-tiring, Re-focus, Re-energize and Re-educate (at WVU Parkersburg). Becoming active by enrolling as a student means “staying mentally and physically fit”.

Also, senior citizens are offered a reduced tuition rate. West Virginia residents over the age of 65 may register as a full time student at half of the tuition price.

Not only is Sharon the creator of the four R’s, but she also created the three C’s: Can’t, Change and Challenge.

Some are told they can’t their whole lives – suffering from different types of bullying (physical, mental or sexual).

“Many people have had a bad childhood and adolescence. The scars don’t go away, but like all scars you need to accept them and go forward. You cannot let the scars stop you from being the person that you really are,” Sharon said.

Sharon warns of the change younger generations will experience in their lifetime. The world has evolved since she was 20 years old, and everyone needs to be adaptable to an evolving environment as she has.

Many events in American history inspired a change in Sharon’s life. The first she noted was attack on Pearl Harbor when she was just five years old.

Sharon and her step-grandmother were washing dishes after Sunday dinner. The radio was on, and all of a sudden, the attack was announced. Her startled grandmother dropped one of the china cups to their Haviland china set.

Sharon’s grandfather was a small town business owner. He rigged two large radios together and set them outside of his storefront. This way, any passersby would be able to stay up-to-date on the tragedy.

“Pearl Harbor happened on a Sunday, and the president’s speech happened that Tuesday. People walking by on the streets would crunch together so they could hear every bit of news while shopping,” Sharon said.

As a grown woman, Sharon experienced the Kennedy assassination and the Civil Rights Movement.

“I will have to say that speech, ‘I Have a Dream,’ is one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century. We should all have a dream for our children, and we should all want to judge people by the content of their character,” Sharon said.

According to Sharon, without the invention of the television, the Civil Rights movement would have never gotten as far as it did. Colored children being escorted to school by police, and young African American adults being hosed down and beaten with clubs was all broadcasted.

“I kept thinking, ‘This is America, and those bloody people on the screen are Americans.’ It changed my attitude, and it made me aware that we had to make a change,” Sharon said.

One way to adapt to change, is to accept the challenge to pursue higher education. Change can happen in an instant, and one never knows when they may lose their job and need to transfer to another field.

“I so admire those who are working and going to school, or raising a family and going to school. I could not have managed to go to school while working. I am so proud of everyone whether they are working for themselves individually or working to go on and support a family,” Sharon said.

So, if there is a time when life throws one of its many curve-balls remember Sharon’s three C’s. Stop all of the can’ts in life, change is to be accepted and always be challenged to go above and beyond what is required.

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