who studied the psychosocial aspects of aging
San Francisco resident Harriet Miller graduates with youngest grandchild at her side
SAN FRANCISCO, May 21, 2002 -- At age 84, Harriet Ellen Miller is the oldest graduate in San Francisco State University's Class of 2002. The spry San Francisco resident explains that she "took a big long break" between her high school diploma and a college degree, although in the last two decades she often found herself on Bay Area college campuses.
"I guess you could say that when I make a commitment, I finish it through," says Miller of her long awaited degree.
For the last 20 years she took classes for fun -- mostly physical fitness, cooking and language courses mixed in with the more serious accounting and anthropology -- but in 1996 she got serious and decided to pursue a bachelor's degree.
"I figured the brain was still working so why not," she says. "Of course, I thought I'd be in school forever so I had to get going."
On Saturday she graduates with a special major degree in the psychosocial aspects of aging. She is part of the largest graduating class in the University's history with nearly 7,200 students expected to receive degrees. Standing beside Miller will be her 23-year-old granddaughter Rachel Kanewske who graduates with a bachelor's degree in geography. The commencement ceremony begins at 12:15 p.m. in Cox Stadium.
A conscientious student who found math classes especially challenging, Miller spent most weekends studying at her dining room table or in the campus library. She says her fellow students have treated her like one of the crowd and she appreciates that no one makes a fuss over her age. She adds, however, that one advantage to attending classes in her 80s is that professors always remember her name.
A native of Fort Wayne, Ind., Miller was the oldest of five children and basically took charge of the household at age 13 when her mother died. She finished high school and wanted to become a teacher but instead worked at a General Electric factory.
She arrived in San Francisco in 1952 and as she raised her children, she held a variety of administrative jobs -- from vice president at a women's clothing store to temporary spots in accounting departments at various businesses. She retired in her 70s.
She credits her daughter, Kathy Kanewske, also an SFSU graduate, for encouraging her to earn a college degree.
"When I told Kathy I would be almost 90 by the time I finished, she said, 'Well, you'll be almost 90 anyway so you might as well have a degree,'" explains Miller, who lives in the city's Richmond District.
And while she finishes her undergraduate studies this week, Miller doesn't expect to close the book on school. She hopes to continue taking classes at local universities and she hasn't entirely ruled out a shot at graduate school.
While at SFSU, Miller occasionally studied with her granddaughter and at times the two ended up at the dining room table together. When Kanewske ran into her grandmother on campus, she ran up to her and said, "What's up grandma?" followed by a big hug.
"My grandma is such a great role model and I'm totally proud of her," Kanewske adds.
Kanewske enrolled at the University in 1997 but she's been visiting the campus since she was 12 as she often tagged along to classes with her mother, Kathy, who earned a bachelor's degree in U.S. history from San Francisco State in 1995.
Miller's oldest grandchild, Daniel Kanewske, graduated May 18 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Humboldt State University. He will attend Saturday's ceremony, cheering on his grandma and his sister.
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