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72-year-old graduates from college as 99-year-old mom cheers

Sam Kaplan ze swoją matką

Sam Kaplan | Facebook

Anna Gębalska-Berekets - published on 08/12/23

Sam Kaplan started college at age 68 and graduated summa cum laude this spring from Georgia Gwinnett College.

Georgia Gwinnett College graduates cheered loudly as Sam Kaplan received his bachelor’s degree in cinema and media arts, graduating summa cum laude. “I’m the first of my seven siblings to earn a degree,” he told ABC 7 Chicago. The newly graduated 72-year-old said that what made him happiest was the fact that his 99-year-old mother accompanied him to the event.

Unusual path to graduation

The last time he was in a classroom was in the 1960s; Sam graduated from high school more than 50 years ago. In the following years, Kaplan changed professions. He ran a cleaning company, and later also a telemarketing company. He worked as a cab driver. He was also employed by an electronics wholesaler. When he turned 68, he decided to enroll in college for the first time.

“I was riding down 316 and heard on the radio that Georgia Gwinnett College was offering a degree that involved script writing,” Kaplan said in an interview on the college’s own website.

“My car seemed to have developed automatic steering and I pulled off on Collins Hill Road. Five minutes later, I was registering for the fall semester,” he recounts.

Returning to education wasn’t a necessity for him, but completing higher education was one of his dreams. The father of five children had to set his priorities and organize his time. He says that in the early days of being a student, he felt a little nervous about having to adjust to his fellow students, who were more than 50 years younger than he was. However, Kaplan says he set a daily goal for himself. Each day he would approach a new student and exchange a few words with them. He also offered to study together, aiming to share experiences, mutual growth, and understanding.

“I think I have a good relationship with them. I got hugs from a lot of them on the last day of classes,”  Kaplan says. He talked to the other students about their plans for the future, and was interested in what they intended to do with their lives. He treated them with respect and kindness.

Support from his 99-year-old mother

Kate Balsley, a professor at Georgia Gwinnett College who taught Kaplan in some of his classes, expresses her excitement and appreciation for him and his academic achievements.

“Sam was always willing to share photos and stories about his interesting life and his family. We’re so proud to see him graduate, but we will miss him,” Prof. Balsley admitted. Kaplan received thunderous applause during the graduation ceremony. His 99-year-old mother was proud of her son and didn’t try to hide her emotion. She watched with maternal love as her adult son received his college diploma. “She’s excited, happy and proud,” Sam Kaplan said.

When asked what he plans to do now, the 72-year-old graduate, always ready for new challenges, replied that perhaps he will continue his education. He has been considering a master’s degree. Kalan has always been interested in screenwriting and is the author of two books. “I’ve always liked to write and create stories,” Kaplan said in an interview with News Nation.

“I’ve always wanted to write a screenplay, and I needed the knowledge of how to do it.” he added.

“It’s never too late”

Sam Kaplan also fights stereotypes that age limits or hinders the realization of dreams. Kaplan hopes his story will be an inspiration to others who are thinking about getting back into education but fear it’s too late for them. “It’s never too late to see your dreams come true,” he said.

Sam’s story is a reminder that with willpower and determination, learning can be a lifelong process, no matter how old you are. The important thing is to look to your future with enthusiasm, hope and faith.

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