At 76, she graduated from CU Boulder to show ‘grandma can still do this’

Listen Now
2min 31sec
Courtesy of Rita Garson
Rita Garson, 76, may be the second oldest person ever to graduate from CU Boulder, in May 2023.

Nearly 10,000 students graduated from CU Boulder this month, but only one of them is 76 years old. The university said that may make her the second oldest person ever to get an undergraduate degree there; they do not have digital records from before 1988.

Rita Garson started taking college courses decades ago, after high school.

"I wanted to be a nurse. That is what's in my high school yearbook," Garson said.

Then, she said, the women's liberation movement taught her she could be a doctor, so she changed her plan, deciding to become a doctor instead. But she had gotten married young, and had three children.

"And the kids had to come first. So even though I wanted to finish, I had to get my kids' educations straightened out," Garson said.

She left college, and later came to Colorado with her daughter, who enrolled at CU Boulder. Then in the 2000s Garson started taking classes again herself, recognizing that she continued to love learning.

She's definitely been an inspiration: Her daughter and granddaughter have become doctors, fulfilling the vision Garson had for her own life. And her grandson graduated from CU in 2021 — two years before grandma.

Garson owns a medical publishing business, and is well past the age when some people retire. But after all these years, she was prepared to walk across the graduation stage in Boulder last Thursday, with 23 members of her family and friends looking on. Unfortunately, the rain wouldn't allow it.

Instead of walking on the stage, Garson and her classmates, all soaking wet, stood up as a section and said, "Yay! We did it!"

She has accomplished all this while living with Parkinson's disease, but still, she does not plan to slow down. She will keep traveling, and skiing, and riding horses. She has a message to share:

"Finish what you started. It's worth it. The other thing is: Do not let Parkinson's, or any other type of disease, define you. Fight it — do what you can — and don't give up."