‘Age Is Just a Number’: 72-Year-Old North Carolina Woman Who Survived a Car Accident That Killed Her Husband Returns to College to Get Degree

A 72-year-old woman is setting out to finish a degree she started years ago.

After her husband died in 2005, Anniatha McMillan decided to enroll at Robeson Community College to fulfill a commitment she made to herself.

McMillan remembers the day she lost her husband and almost lost her own life two decades ago.

72-Year-Old North Carolina Woman Who Survived a Car Accident That Killed Her Husband Returns to College to Get Degree
Anniatha McMillan, 72, has returned to college. (Photo: Robertson Community College)

She and her first husband were in a tragic car accident in Onslow County, North Carolina. The wreck claimed her husband’s life, while authorities were able to save McMillan’s life and pull her to safety after prying open the top of the vehicle.

Related: ‘Everyone Was Quite Impressed’: 9-Year-Old College Student Teaches NASA Scientists ‘More Than One Thing’ During Tour, Stumps Them with His Brilliance

“There was an explosion, and I had to be pulled out of the car,” McMillan said. She added that authorities had to cut the top off the vehicle and that “somehow, I made it out alive,” McMillan said in an interview with the college’s website.

The senior citizen says she invested her life into the church and during the COVID-19 quarantine was divinely inspired by a message from God that said, “I’m changing things.”

According to McMillan, God started changing things in the then-widow’s love life. She met a farmer and the two of them got married.

Her new husband provided a new home for the woman, where she could relax and take up hobbies, but after a while she got bored.

“I stay busy working in my flower garden. I used to go to the doctor to complain about my knees, joints, high blood pressure and I’d go home, sit down, and got bored, I thought, I got to do something, I’m just wasting away,” McMillan said.

Out of that boredom, the second change to come to her life was the return to college to complete a degree she started years ago.

“I would get off work, go to school, and then I would stop,” she said. “So I thought, maybe I’m not too old, I could still get my degree, and so I made up my mind to go back to school.”

Her new husband was supportive and recommended she attend a school that was a great fit for him, earning him five to six credentials including degrees and certificates. He told her about Robeson Community College.

McMillan said, “I needed that push.”

Currently, the septuagenarian is taking developmental classes in English. Her teachers are excited about her zeal in the classroom, calling her a “good thinker” and a “role model.”

“Age is just a number, Anniatha is such a role model to the other students,” RCC instructor Angela Lamb said.

“It is important to her to have completion,” Lamb continued. “She’s a good writer and a good thinker… we are excited to see her move on to the next class, which will be English 111.”

Going back to school could be daunting for older people. A survey by Elder Guru states only 0.3 percent of students enrolled in colleges across the country are over 65 years old.

An incentive for North Carolina residents is that tuition and registration fees are waived for residents 65 or older who enroll in any North Carolina community college. These seniors are allowed to take up to six credit hours per semester for free, and audit classes where there is space or classes are available.

According to The Penny Hoarder, schools like the University of North Carolina Wilmington let senior citizens “audit classes for free after getting the instructor’s permission and submitting an application” and even offer online options.

Despite there being so many incentives and the small percentage of seniors in school anticipated to rise, McMillan says some people might “look at you like you lost your mind.”

Even if they have their own reservations, getting an education is something worth chasing, she said.

“Never give up, just pursue,” she said.

Unlike before, she is taking that advice and clinging to it.

“I’m never going to stop,” McMillan said, later suggesting, “Try it, just take one class at a time like I’m doing. Just take your time, there’s no hurry.”

“Whatever makes you happy, do it,” she says. “Continue on your journey, go back to school, sit on the porch, work in your flower garden, whatever makes you happy – that’s what you need to do.”

Back to top