Skip to Content (Press Enter)

OLLI Award Winner Embraces Life With Curiosity and Zeal

Share This:

Anneke Mendiola has lived a colorful life, and this May she will add yet another hue when — at the age of 82 — she graduates magna cum laude with bachelor’s degrees in liberal studies and philosophy from Cal State Fullerton.

Recognizing her achievements as an older graduate who values and represents lifelong learning, Mendiola is the 2019 recipient of the Betty Robertson Award from CSUF’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Mendiola shares that she was “absolutely enthralled and shocked” upon hearing the news. She notes the irony in receiving an award from OLLI now. Years ago she was an OLLI member, but dropped out because the program promotes learning for fun, and she wanted a degree. “I guess they haven’t forgotten me,” she laughs. “I’m going to join again.”

Mendiola will be speaking at the Saturday, May 18 evening commencement ceremony on behalf of both of her majors. She will extol how the breadth of liberal studies opens graduates to a world of possibilities. And she wants her fellow philosophers to know that their thirst for knowledge, reflective nature and ability to defend points of view are valuable.

When asked if those are the reasons she chose to study liberal studies and philosophy, Mendiola responds with a smile, “I could have studied just about anything. Everything fascinates me.”

A native of Holland, Mendiola’s love of learning began with her father. “He instilled the thinking that I was capable of doing things,” she explains. “I was about nine years old when World War II ended and Canadian troops arrived in Amsterdam. I was in awe and asked my father if I could be a soldier. He said, ‘You can be a five-star general if you want to be.'”

It wasn’t the military, though, but a series of twists and turns — including high school in Australia, flamenco dancing in Spain and marriage and family — that led Mendiola to Southern California and a lengthy, fulfilling career in social services.

After her husband passed, however, she found herself wanting more. She took up piano, but also decided to retire and pursue a college degree. She chose CSUF because her daughter, Anna Mendiola ’98 (B.A. American studies), is an alumna.

Mendiola has been impressed with CSUF faculty and felt welcomed by her fellow Titans. “I have not had one professor that I thought, ‘why is this person teaching?’,” she says. “I get to meet a lot of wonderful people, and the students have accepted me in their study groups, which is very nice.”

She believes there is an advantage to entering school at an advanced age; her life experience has made some concepts easier to understand. Her advice to youth is, “Keep dancing. It starts your day out with a real positive approach that you can use everywhere.”

Mendiola is delighted that the Betty Robertson Award includes a $1,000 gift; she wants to use it to visit family in Europe. She may need to travel soon, though, because she hopes to begin a master’s program in evolutionary anthropology at CSUF in the fall.