At 79, she’s finally set to graduate from CCP

Ber­nice Ap­pel, 79, watched her two daugh­ters gradu­ate from Com­munity Col­lege of Phil­adelphia. 

Now, it’s their turn to watch their mom don cap and gown to re­ceive her as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree — a goal she has pur­sued on and off for 34 years.

“I was al­ways in­ter­ested in get­ting my edu­ca­tion, but I didn’t have the op­por­tun­ity when I was young­er,” said Ap­pel, a res­id­ent of the Far North­east.

As a moth­er, Ap­pel made sure her three chil­dren had the ad­vant­age she did not. Two of her three chil­dren, Robin Hex­ter and Di­ane Lauri­cella, gradu­ated from CCP.

Hex­ter, 48, went on to earn a bach­el­or’s de­gree from the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Johns Hop­kins Uni­versity.

Lauri­cella, 43, trans­ferred to Temple Uni­versity, where she re­ceived bach­el­or’s and mas­ter’s de­grees in ac­count­ing.

Each time, Ap­pel was there to cheer them on.

On Sat­urday, her daugh­ters will be there to ap­plaud her as she re­ceives her as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree in gen­er­al stud­ies at CCP’s 47th com­mence­ment at Temple Uni­versity’s Liac­our­as Cen­ter. Her son, Robert, will also join the fam­ily’s cheer­ing sec­tion.

The ce­re­mony starts at 10 a.m. Ap­pel, a grand­moth­er of three, is the old­est gradu­ate in this year’s class of 1,934.

“We’re just very proud of her for ac­com­plish­ing this,” Lauri­cella said. “Mom has had a tough time, and get­ting a de­gree means a lot to her.”

Ap­pel left her ho­met­own of Frack­ville, a small coal town in Schuylkill County, for Phil­adelphia at age 19, hop­ing to land a job and go to col­lege. She quickly found cler­ic­al work, but nev­er earned enough money to pay col­lege tu­ition.

At 30, she mar­ried and star­ted a fam­ily. She was in her early 50s be­fore she fi­nally made it to a col­lege classroom. She was among a group of Mount Sinai Hos­pit­al em­ploy­ees who were en­cour­aged to en­roll in a med­ic­al billing cer­ti­fic­ate pro­gram at Temple.

After fin­ish­ing at the top of her class, she began tak­ing oc­ca­sion­al courses at CCP’s North­east Re­gion­al Cen­ter, at 12901 Town­send Road. At the time, she was also caring for her hus­band, who had Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

After he passed away, she turned her at­ten­tion back to­ward earn­ing a col­lege de­gree.  She was 67.

“I felt my time had come, and I de­cided I was go­ing to get my de­gree be­fore my 80th birth­day, come hell or high wa­ter,” said Ap­pel, who will turn 80 on Oct. 30.

Over the years, her de­term­in­a­tion was tested by sev­er­al health is­sues — a torn ro­tat­or cuff, carpal tun­nel syn­drome, catar­act re­mov­al and two knee re­place­ments — but she nev­er once con­sidered quit­ting.

“My mom is like the En­er­gizer Bunny, she keeps go­ing and go­ing, some­times she goes even longer than I can,” Lauri­cella said.

Now, Ap­pel is look­ing over some bac­ca­laur­eate-level pro­grams.

“I have to look in­to the costs, but my doc­tors are teas­ing me about go­ing to med­ic­al school,” she joked.

While at CCP, Ap­pel be­nefited from a pro­gram that al­lows Phil­adelphia res­id­ents age 65 and older to take one tu­ition-free cred­it course a semester.

Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­ic­an As­so­ci­ation of Com­munity Col­leges, 5 per­cent to 6 per­cent of en­roll­ment in com­munity col­leges is made up of people aged 50 and older.

“Com­munity col­leges were es­tab­lished to ex­pand ac­cess to op­por­tun­ity,” said Steph­en M. Curtis, CCP’s pres­id­ent. “Each year, we are in­spired by our stu­dents’ com­mit­ment to learn­ing and to get­ting by life’s road­b­locks. Par­ents who en­rich our city by giv­ing their chil­dren, then them­selves, the gift of edu­ca­tion are in a class by them­selves.” ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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