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WAYNE YOUNG: Age is just a number

Olive Bryanton, 82, will be the oldest student to ever receive a PhD from UPEI when she crosses the stage at today’s convocation.
Olive Bryanton, 82, was the oldest student to ever receive a PhD from UPEI at this year's convocation. - Contributed

An American businessman intent on making a deal squinted at me across the table.

Then, beginning with the word, “Son,” he schooled my wife and I on why you’re never too old to try something new.

For years, we had entertained the notion of purchasing a small business. But by the time the owners were ready to sell, we were both in our 50s.

A decade earlier would have been ideal, I told the businessman after he put his offer on the table. But “at our age” we had some concerns.

The expression on his face screamed “poppycock,” but he patiently assured us we’d be OK. He told us he was 75 (he could have passed for 10 years younger), his wife was a bit younger and that they had no intention of getting out of business even though they were selling one property.

We talked for a while and soon struck a verbal deal, although it would fall through within a few weeks. Nine years later – now nearing our 60th year – they were finally ready to sell and this time, we took the plunge.

Olive Bryanton knows something about keeping busy and productive in her senior years. Last weekend, at 82, she became UPEI’s oldest-ever PhD recipient. She earned her master’s of education degree 10 years earlier.

I was fortunate to see first-hand this remarkable woman’s energy, insight, passion and commitment when I served with her on a volunteer, non-profit agency several years ago. She was an inspiration then and today, she continues to knock down outdated stereotypes about seniors and aging.

The research for her PhD focused on 10 women 85 to 92 years old living in rural P.E.I. and what supported or limited their ability to continue living there. She found that with a little help from family, most remained active and involved in their communities. She concluded that people should look at seniors as contributors to society regardless of their age.

“Instead of looking at older people as vulnerable and needy,” she said in a recent Guardian interview, “we need to look at what strengths they have and build on those strengths.”

She might have been speaking about my mother-in-law. With family support and her own fierce determination, she lives at home where she works diligently on her crafts that will be sold in tourism shops this summer. Visitors are always welcome and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren all cherish a trip to Grammie Wanda’s.

She turns 93 in July.

Bryanton’s research has made it crystal clear that aging Islanders are not a drain on society, rather, they are contributors – to their community and to their families.

Her PhD now in hand, Bryanton shows no sign of slowing down. She’s planning a trip to Vietnam even as she starts a new research job at UPEI.

For anyone who’s ever hesitated to try something new because of advancing years, Bryanton offered this advice in The Guardian interview.

“In reality, age is not a factor. It’s whether you want to do it. If you really want to do it, go and do it. You’ll never regret it.”

She may be her own best example.

Congratulations, Dr. Bryanton.

Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.


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