For most people, reaching the age of retirement means a shift in life away from full-time work and slowing down. For Kelly Graff, now that he is a graduate from UEI College in Stockton, life is busier than ever – at age 65.
“Kelly is one of the oldest graduates UEI has ever had, and he is truly an inspiration,” said Sandra Gracia, Executive Director at UEI College in Stockton. “He was the top of his class with near-perfect attendance and 4.0 GPA.”
“Not bad for an old man,” Kelly said. “My experience at UEI was really wonderful.”
Kelly grew up in Santa Cruz. After high school he worked as a crew leader at a tannery, and started a family. Throughout his adult life, Kelly gained a lot of experience working various jobs like operating a printing press, construction work, and working at his parents’ small grocery store when he was younger. When it came time to retire as a laborer, he didn’t want to slow down.
“I didn’t like retirement. I’ve always been active” he said. “I was an athlete who played football and baseball. My jobs involved a lot of physical activity. I didn’t want to just lay down and retire.”
By day, Kelly works for a nonprofit organization in Stockton that helps parolees reintegrate into society from prison and become productive members of the community.
“It is very rewarding work. I’ve made some mistakes in my life but I was able to get my act together. Everyone deserves a second chance,” he said. Still, he wanted more.
Kelly attended UEI in Stockton in the evenings as a student in the Medical Assistant Training Program, while continuing to work full-time. He was 63 years-old at the time.
“The first week I was scared to death because I hadn’t been in school in over 45 years. But I caught on real quick the second week. The instructors are great. They all bring their own areas of expertise to the classroom and it is a really great experience for students,” he said.
“I got a wide variety of training and it really helped me prepare for the job I have now. The doctor at our clinic was very impressed with how well prepared I was. I’m grateful to all of the teachers who prepared me to work in this field,” Kelly added.
He was hired by the urgent care clinic where he externed in Modesto, where he’s been working evenings since last August.
“Kelly did so well on his externship that he was extended an offer and has been with his extern employer since April 2019. He continues to make us proud,” Sandra said.
“I like the environment where I’m at. I like working with people. I like helping people. COVID-19 has made things very challenging but I think it’s also a reminder of how important healthcare workers are,” he said. “We learned how to give COVID tests and offer them at the clinic now, which is really important to the community.”
“I wasn’t too concerned about COVID because of the precautions we have in place with PPE and I’ve always been very conscientious about washing my hands and having good self-hygiene,” he added.
If there is any advice that Kelly would share with current students or those considering going back to school, it would be “go for it,” he said. “It’s very rewarding. Be open-minded and learn as much as you can from your instructors. Make sure that you understand everything – not just to pass the state certification exam, but to be a good medical assistant once you get out there in the real world. If you study and know you’re job, you’ll be just fine.”
Giving younger students advice has always been part of who he is. “Kelly was a lead peer mentor in the evenings, and he assisted many new students by helping them acclimate to their new learning community. He would always go above and beyond to help not just his classmates, but he also volunteered for events on campus to promote our student community,” Sandra said. “He makes us all very proud.”
If there is anyone who embodies the old adage “you’re never too old to go back to school,” it’s Kelly Graff. How long does he plan to continue working? “Until my body won’t allow me to anymore,” he says. “I’m a healthy old man. I’m happy. I’ll keep doing this as long as I can – as long as my body says to keep going. You’ve gotta keep moving.”