by HOLLY SCHOENSTEIN | REPORTER Munroe Falls -- About 60 residents from Mulberry Gardens Assisted Living received diplomas Oct. 29 after they "graduated" from a health and wellness program, a ceremony during which Kent State University President Lester Lefton gave a speech about lifelong learning. Activity Coordinator Tara Berardinelli said Hawthorn Retirement Group, the company that owns Mulberry Gardens, implemented the optional program for the first time at each of its assisted living facilities in the U.S. and Canada to encourage its residents to keep mentally and physically active. She said the program may become an annual offering. Over four weeks, participants who took a certain number of "classes" earned a certificate of participation or a "degree" from the "University of Hawthorn School of Health and Wellness." The classes were offered at the assisted living facility. In his 10-minute speech at the start of the graduation, Lefton praised the residents for seeking opportunities to learn. "I applaud your efforts to explore new ideas through the University of Hawthorn. Most of all, I hope your experience has led you to share my view that learning is like drinking from the fountain of youth," he said. "I'm a psychologist by training, and one of the things we know is that people who study, who learn and who do so throughout their life lives longer, healthier and happier lives because it keeps them sharp as a tack ..." Lefton said KSU has 1,500 students in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s working toward degrees, and this semester one student is 82 years old. "Just as learning isn't confined to certain places, it isn't an activity with an expiration date ... I don't think we should ever let age define us. We should let age limit us because there are natural consequences that come with age, but not when it comes to learning ...," he said. The university also gave a gift of books published by the Kent State University Press as a gift for the library at Mulberry Gardens. Residents chose from a variety of classes, including a KSU professor-taught one called "International People, Places and Things" and another Tallmadge Mayor Dave Kline gave about the history of Tallmadge. A representative from Summa Health System talked about heart health, a doctor about art therapy and a representative of Stan Hywet gave a tour of the historical museum, while other classes focused on nutrition, preventing falls, medication safety and the benefits of exercise. The number of classes each participant took determined whether they earned an "associate's," "bachelor's," "master's" or "doctorate." "The people who got the 'doctorates' were in the activity room pretty much all day every day. They participated in pretty much all of the classes that were offered," Berardinelli said. She sought out and booked local speakers for the classes and Lefton for the graduation speech. "I asked [Lefton] because the program is about lifelong learning, and because it's called the University of Hawthorn, I tried to make it as close to a university graduation as possible," she said. She knew the program was of interest to residents when those who typically spend much of their time in their apartments came out to participate. She said the program helped to reinforce concepts, such as exercise, that residents already are exposed to at the assisted living facility. "We offer exercise every day here so when they heard from the various speakers how important it is, they think, 'Oh, it's important.' It's more believable," Berardinelli said. Mary Ann Repeta, 84, who earned an associate's degree, opted for classes in dentistry, Ohio history and preserving memory. "I picked out the classes, and they were great. I think Tara did a wonderful job ... I had a good time, and I know other people had a good time," she said. "I hope she does something like this again." Claire Allen, who said she was "plus 80" years old, earned a master's degree. Classes that focused on pottery and painting were her favorites as she has always had an interest in the arts. "There's not much opportunity to be creative when you're a senior citizen. Nobody thinks you can do it," she said. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 330-541-9428 SS mulberry gardens event a.jpg: RPC PHOTO/HOLLY SCHOENSTEIN Mulberry Gardens resident Claire Allen, who says she's "80 plus" years old, has earned a "master's degree in lifelong learning" from the "University of Hawthorn School of Health and Wellness." Allen is among about 60 residents of the assisted living facility in Munroe Falls who have participated in the program that seeks to encourage seniors to remain physically and mentally active. SS mulberry gardens event b.jpg: RPC PHOTO/HOLLY SCHOENSTEIN Kent State University President Lester Lefton gives a speech about lifelong learning to a crowd of Mulberry Gardens residents Oct. 29. The activity coordinator at the senior living facility asked Lefton to speak as part of a graduation ceremony for a program that encourages seniors to remain physically and mentally active. SS mulberry gardens event c.jpg: RPC PHOTO/HOLLY SCHOENSTEIN Mulberry Gardens resident Claire Allen, who says she's "80 plus" years old, has earned a "master's degree in lifelong learning" from the "University of Hawthorn School of Health and Wellness." Allen is among about 60 residents of the senior living facility in Munroe Falls who have participated in the program that seeks to encourage seniors to remain physically and mentally active. SS mulberry gardens event d.jpg: RPC PHOTO/HOLLY SCHOENSTEIN Maryann Ervin, administrator at Mulberry Gardens in Munroe Falls, accepts a gift of books from the Kent State University Press for the senior living facility's library. Representatives from the university gave the give Oct. 29 during a graduation ceremony for a program than encourages seniors to remain physically and mentally active.