Some time ago, a friend sent me the story below with the hope I would enjoy it. I have enjoyed it -- and find it to be very appropriate during this process of aging. As I have read it again several times, I am reminded of Fort Hays State University's Nola Ochs, who reached 100 years.

I hope you will enjoy it and find it appropriate for us and who are aging. If anyone knows the original source, please share it.

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The first day of school our professor introduces himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn't already know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder. I turned around to find a little old lady beaming up at me with a gentle smile that lit up her entire being.

She said "Hi, handsome. My name is Rose. I'm 87 years old. Can I give you a hug?" I laughed and enthusiastically responded, "Of course you may." She gave me a giant squeeze.

"Why are you in college at such a young, innocent, age?' I asked. She jokingly replied, "I'm here to meet a rich husband, get married, have a couple of children, and then retire and travel."

"No, seriously," I asked. I was curious what motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age.

"I've always dreamed of having a college education, and now I'm getting one," she told me.

After class, we walked to the student union building and shared a chocolate milkshake. We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months, we would leave class together and talk nonstop. I was always mesmerized listening to this "time machine" as she shared her wisdom and experience with me.

During the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon, and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up, and she reveled in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up.

At the end of the semester, we invited. Rose to speak at our football banquet. I'll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium.

As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her 3-by-5 cards on the floor. Frustrated and a little embarassed, she leaned into the microphone and simply said, "I'm sorry I'm so jittery. I'll never get my speech back in order, so let me just tell you what I know." As we laughed, she cleared her throat and began.

"We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing. There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy and achieving success.

"You have to laugh and find humor every day. You've got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die. We have so many people walking around who are dead and don't even know it. There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up. If you are 19 years old and lie in bed for one full year and don't do one productive thing, you will turn 20 years old. If I am 87 years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything, I will turn 88.

"Anybody can grow older. That doesn't take any talent or ability. I idea is to grow up by always findng the opportunity in change. Have no regrets. The elderly usually don't have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets."

She concluded her speech by courageously singing "The Rose." She challenged each of us to study the lyrics and live them out in our daily lives.

At year's end. Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those years ago. One week after graduation. Rose died peacefully in her sleep. More than 2,000 college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it's never too late to be all you can possibly be.

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I was reminded by one of the phrases in the above story of a comment made by my wise father-in-law. He was living in his 92nd year when he passed away. One day he said to me, "I have friends who have been dead for 20 years who haven't been buried yet."

I believe our later years can be among the best of our lives if we keep growing.

This story also touched me in another way. In my 92nd year, I have debated whether to continue to play golf or to use the money it would cost in another way. The phrase, "We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing" -- causing me to decide to keep playing!

History his given us countless examples of powerful, creative and productive elders. Moses was 80 when God called him to deliver his people from Egypt. Goethe completed Faust when he was 80. Michelangelo was appointed chief architect of St. Peter Cathedral in Rome at age 71. Until his death 18 years later, he personally supervised the creation of the vast body of the church. George Bernard Shaw wrote "Farfetched Fables" at 93. Pablo Picasso, at 90, was still in full creative production. Pianist Artur Rubsnstiein gave a stunning performance in Carnegie Hall at 90. And there are many more.

The lesson: Growing older is mandatory. Growing up is optional.

Arris Johnson is a member of The Hays Daily News Generations advisory group.