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 firstname.lastname@example.org