A Love for Learning
Bernice Appel Watched Two Daughters Graduate From Community College of Philadelphia, Now It's Their Turn to Watch Her

PHILADELPHIA, April 25, 2013—Bernice Appel, 79, watched her two daughters graduate from Community College of Philadelphia, now it’s their turn to watch mom don cap and gown to receive her associate’s degree—a goal she has pursued off and on for 34 years.

"I was always interested in getting my education, but I didn’t have the opportunity when I was younger," says Appel, a resident of Northeast Philadelphia. As a mother, Appel made sure her three children had the advantage she was denied. Two of her three children, Robin Hexter, 48, and Diane Lauricella, 43, graduated from Community College of Philadelphia. Hexter went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Johns Hopkins University. Lauricella transferred to Temple University, where she received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Accounting. Each time, Appel was there to cheer them on.

On May 4, her daughters will be there to applaud for her as Appel receives her associate’s degree in General Studies at the College’s 47th Commencement at Temple’s Liacouras Center, Broad and Cecil B. Moore Avenues. Commencement starts at 10 a.m. Her son, Robert, also will join the family’s cheering section. The grandmother of three is the oldest graduate in this year’s class of 1,934.

"We’re just very proud of her for accomplishing this," says Lauricella. "Mom has had a tough time, and getting a degree means a lot to her."

Appel left her hometown of Frackville, a small coal town in central Pennsylvania, for Philadelphia at 19 hoping to land a job and go to college. She quickly found clerical work, but never earned enough to pay college tuition. At 30, she married and started a family. She was in her early 50s before she finally made it to a college classroom. She was among a group of Mt. Sinai Hospital employees encouraged to enroll in a Medical Billing Certificate program at Temple University. After finishing at the top of her class, she began taking the occasional course at Community College of Philadelphia’s Northeast Regional Center. At that time, however, she also was caring for her husband, who had Alzheimer’s.

Appel’s husband passed away and, it was then, at age 67, she turned her attention back toward earning a college degree. “I felt my time had come, and I decided I was going to get my degree before my 80th birthday come hell or high water,” says Appel, who will turn 80 on Oct. 30.

Over the years, her dogged determination was tested by several health issues—a torn rotator cuff, carpal tunnel, cataract removal and two knee replacements—but she never once considered quitting. “My mom is like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going and going, sometimes she goes even longer than I can,” says Lauricella.

What’s next? Appel says she is currently looking over some baccalaureate-level programs. “I have to look into the costs, but my doctors are teasing me about going to medical school,” she jokes.

While at the College, Appel benefitted from a program that allows Philadelphia residents age 65 and up to take one tuition-free credit course a semester.

"Community colleges were established to expand access to opportunity," President Stephen M. Curtis says. "Each year, we are inspired by our students' dedication to learning and by their ability to get around life's roadblocks. Parents who enrich our city by giving their children, then themselves, the gift of education are in a class by themselves."