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Estelle Rees Arroyo is a fresh graduate of Sierra College. She’s also 90 years old. This month, Arroyo got an associate of arts degree in social science and another in liberal arts during the spring commencement at Sierra College’s Nevada County campus.

She transferred about 82 units from other colleges she attended since her teens toward her Sierra College degrees, Arroyo said.

“I didn’t think I’d feel this way, but there is a sense of accomplishment,” Arroyo said, about her new college degree.



Apparently, Arroyo has plans to take her education farther.

“I’m hoping to go to California State University in Sacramento,” she said. “But I don’t know if I can do it because of transportation. It’s quite a drive.”




If Arroyo does attend Cal State, she’d like to major in history, she said.

Sitting across the table from Arroyo in her Grass Valley home, it’s impossible to miss her effervescent energy. Wearing a long string of off-white pearls and a gold chain against a green top, Arroyo looked less than her physical age.

“My mind is a lot more active than my body,” she said. “The challenge for me (while taking classes) was to do research on computers – just to learn how to do it because I don’t belong to the computer generation.”

Indeed, Arroyo belongs to a different era.

Her paternal grandfather fought in the Civil War. Her maternal grandparents were among the pioneers who came West. And she has lived through most of the 20th-century history she read in her coursework.

“Estelle was a very good student,” said Vicki Fortini, one of Arroyo’s professors at Sierra College. “What I loved about her was, she was so intense on the class. She sat in the front row. She’s one of those students who are right there with you when you’re lecturing. She always asked her intelligent and pertinent questions.”

Fortini recalled with amusement how Arroyo was surprised some men were taking a class on women in American history.

“The students were just as intrigued with her as she was with the material,” Fortini said. “I never got the sense that she was struggling because of her age, ever. She was above average.

“I would like to be like Estelle when I grow old,” Fortini said, with laughter in her voice.

Dean Neal Allbee of Sierra College Nevada County campus greeted Arroyo specially at the commencement.

“She’s a dynamic and very interesting lady,” Allbee said. “She’s very articulate and she articulates a lifetime of information. I’ve never spoken to someone whose grandfather fought in the Civil War.

“She’s very down-to-earth, very determined, and very positive,” Allbee said.

So what is it that keeps a 90-year-old hooked on studies?

“I think it’s a way to keep your mind alert and interested in current things,” Arroyo said. “I guess I’m determined. I just don’t want to fail.”

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To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail soumitros@theunion.com or call 477-4229.


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