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Literacy Leads to Long Life

When she addresses the Le Moyne College Class of 2018 in May, she may add another accolade to her life's work.

At 101 years old, Colvin may become the oldest commencement speaker in the country when she speaks at the college's 68th undergraduate graduation ceremony in May.

Le Moyne College spokesman Joe Della Posta said the college's independent research "could not find any commencement speaker over the age of 100 at any college or university in the U.S."

"Ruth Colvin is the quintessential lifelong learner," said Le Moyne President Linda LeMura. "Her accomplishments are surpassed only by the way in which she joyfully shares her passion for literacy and learning with others.

"Now in her second century, her indefatigable spirit inspires us," LeMura continued.

Known by some as the mother of the adult literacy movement in the U.S., Colvin was born on Dec. 16, 1916 in Chicago. She moved to Syracuse in 1942 with her husband, Bob; the couple has two children, son Terry and daughter Lindy.

In the early 1960s, Colvin learned that 11,000 people in Syracuse couldn't read, so she decided to do something about it.

She founded Literacy Volunteers of America in 1962, and over the next 50 years personally helped teach hundreds of people how to read.  The volunteer training manuals that she drafted in her early 50s are still considered authoritative sources for the purpose of training basic literacy to adults. 

In 2002, her organization merged with Laubach Literacy International to become ProLiteracy, which is still based in Syracuse and supports adult literacy programs around the world through a network of more than 100,000 volunteers. 

At the age of 101, Colvin still volunteers in U.S. and abroad, has published nine books, received more than 30 awards and honors for her efforts, and received seven honorary doctorates, according to Le Moyne officials.

Colvin will be awarded an honorary degree at the ceremony, along with Sean Kirst, a Central New York  award-winning journalist, and Oren Lyons, a faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation.

Syracuse.com/Post Standard