May 23, 2014

Great-great-grandmother walks the graduation stage at last in Turlock

Great-great-grandmother Alice Walner of Turlock took her graduation walk this week, saying it’s never too late to learn.

It was December 1950 when she quit high school to get married. The Class of 1952 walked without her. Alice Walner’s date with “Pomp and Circumstance” came this week, a dream realized 62 years later.

“It just fills a void, something you wanted all this time,” Walner said Friday. After all, she’s a role model for four generations now. “They’d say, ‘Grandma, you don’t have a diploma?’ ” she said.

“Then it was common for girls to quit. I worked all those years. Nobody ever asked me for a diploma. Now they do,” she said. She worked for the military, doing typing and filing, and owned her own barbershop in Gustine for 15 years.

The great-great-grandmother will turn 80 on July 4 with one more reason to light fireworks this year. The 2014 Turlock Adult School graduate made it through 57.5 credits’ worth of classes to don the gown and mortarboard along with 70 younger students Wednesday.

“I’d get up at 5 in the morning and start,” Walner said. She’d get through one or two online lessons each day, starting in September 2012 and wrapping up in November. “Believe me, it’s very hard, and on the Internet, it’s much harder,” she said.

U.S. history was her favorite course. “A lot of it just came back to me. Biology did not come back to me, and neither did algebra. They were my two biggest headaches,” Walner said.

Husband Sherman Walner “was my best supporter. He guarded the door. He’d say, ‘Mom’s taking a test.’ ” He quit school in 1945 to join the Navy, getting his diploma through the Stanislaus County Office of Education’s Operation Recognition Program.

The Walners have five children, 12 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandson. “Five generations were at my graduation,” Alice Walner said, “I gave a speech.”

Her speech brought the audience to its feet, said Principal Isaias Rumayor Jr. “Alice did make a significant impact the night of our graduation ceremony. She received a standing ovation from all in attendance,” he said by email Friday. “(Walner) was truly an inspiration to our students.”

But she didn’t do it for the applause, Walner said. “The whole thing for me is, you’re never too old to learn, and if you have a dream, go for it!”

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