Ruth Welsh will tell you you’re never too old to learn.
The 78-year-old walked to the podium last week to receive a two-year diploma from the Yukon College.
She was the oldest student in her Gwichin language program by far – but that was never an issue for Welsh.
She was just glad she finally followed through with a promise that she made to herself when she was a teenager.
As a young student in Fort Macpherson, Gwichin was literally beaten out of Walsh from the age of six, she said.
“At the time I thought, I’ll show you, I’ll speak my language and teach it to whoever wants to learn,” she said.
About 10 years ago, Welsh lived up to that promise when she started teaching Gwichin as a side gig.
A few years later, she began to take teaching more seriously and completed a two-year language certificate from the Yukon College in 2007. Then she started teaching Gwichin at the school’s Language Centre.
With the encouragement of her language teacher John Ritter she continued her studies and applied for the language diploma.
“I’m sure that if it weren’t for (Ritter) Gwichin would have been right next to gone,” she said.
“He’s worked so hard and is so patient with people.”
Even after being diagnosed with cancer and experiencing the loss of her husband, Welsh stuck to the language program.
“When I lost my hubby, two days later I was back at the language centre,” she said.
“It helped take my mind off the world’s worst grieving.”
But then again Welsh has always been a determined woman.
When Welsh was diagnosed with cancer she refused to have anyone help her with her dressings and getting changed.
Even now, Welsh insists on living on her own and doing everything for herself.
“I think I get it from my mother,” said Welsh, explaining that her mother was left to raise eight children on her own when her father died. Welsh was only four years old at the time.
Going to college was just another way to keep Welsh busy.
“I’ve always been a workaholic,” she said.
While living in Whitehorse, she worked as a cleaner for the government during the day. After catching a couple hours of sleep she’d work the night shift doing the same thing at the White Pass building.
Now with her diploma in hand she has no plans of slowing down.
This summer she’ll travel to different parts of the Yukon to teach Gwichin and traditional medicine courses.
In the fall she may even go back to the college to take more courses, she said.
She’s also hoping to get back into music.
As a young girl Welsh used to play the guitar and accordion with her brother James.
After he died in 1951 she never picked up an instrument again.
But she’s recently bought a guitar and a fiddle and is looking to relearn how to play them.
“I want to take lessons so badly,” said Welsh explaining how difficult it is to get music lessons in Tagish.
“I’d come into Whitehorse even if I had to stay for a week to do lessons.”
Welsh embodies the old adage that you can do whatever you put your mind to.
She used to have younger students at the college asking her why she would be going to school at her age.
“I’d tell them, why not?” she said.
“I see a lot of younger people around town saying, ‘I wish I could go to school,’ but a lot of them aren’t working or doing anything, why not?
“Anyone can do it.”
Contact Vivian Belik at firstname.lastname@example.org