TIME society

93-Year-Old World War II Veteran Finally Gets High School Diploma

Just in time for his birthday

A 93-year-old World War II veteran finally received a diploma this week from the high school he attended in Alabama before he had to drop out because he was drafted into the Army.

J.D. Sexton’s wife arranged for him to receive the diploma during Highland Home School’s graduation ceremony as a present for his birthday this month.

In Alabama, the State Superintendent of Education is allowed to award high school diplomas to those who served in the U.S. armed forces during the World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

WSFA 12 News reports that while Sexton did receive a GED in the 1970s, he has always wanted to earn a degree from Highland Home School. He told the news station that the feeling of being among class of 2015 grads is “a wonderful thing.”

TIME society

How the World’s Oldest Person Is Celebrating Her 116th Birthday

Courtesy of Michael Kinloch Jeralean Talley and godson Tyler Kinloch pictured with one of the seven catfish she caught at the Spring Valley Trout Farm in Dexter, Mich., on June 16, 2012.

She got a letter from President Obama

The world’s oldest person is laughing and feeling “good” about turning 116 on Saturday.

“I feel good, I just can’t get around like I would like to,” Jeralean Talley told TIME on the eve of her birthday in a phone call from her Inkster, Mich. home aided by her 77-year-old daughter Thelma Holloway. The Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group named the Montrose, Ga. native the oldest person in the world last month after the two women who held the title before her died within the same week—Misao Okawa of Osaka, Japan at 117 and Gertrude Weaver of Camden, Ark. at 116.

On Thursday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in Inkster threw her a birthday party and gave her $116 as a birthday present—one dollar for each year of her life. She also received a letter from President Obama. “The breadth of your experiences and depth of your wisdom reflect the long path our Nation has traveled since 1899,” the message said. “You have been an important part of the great unending story that is America.” In addition, her physical therapist gave her a bouquet of roses Friday morning, and she is gearing up for two more birthday parties this weekend, including one this Sunday at her church, the New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church.

When she isn’t going to party after party, she is home watching Jeopardy! and The Ellen DeGeneres Show and clapping along to whatever is playing on the radio. Over the years, her hobbies have included fishing for trout and catfish, sewing dresses, making quilts, playing casino slot machines and bowling—scoring 200 in one game before she stopped at 104 years old because her legs got too weak. She can still eat her favorite foods like chicken wings and potato salad, and while her specialty dish has always been Hog Head Cheese (made from pigs’ ears and feet), her daughter Thelma Holloway says Talley “stays away from butter and cheese” now.

But that’s because her tastes have changed, not because of any health reasons. Holloway claims Talley’s doctor “didn’t find anything wrong” with her during a check-up earlier week and says blood pressure pills are the only medication that she takes regularly. “She’s still in her right mind,” according to Holloway.

It is not unheard of for people over 110 to be this healthy. As TIME previously reported, some experts think a rare combination of genes might explain why super-centenarians age more slowly and don’t develop age-related diseases like dementia, heart disease, or cancer, to name a few. It is also possible that these genes are on the X chromosome, and because women have two of those, that would explain why almost all of the verified super-centenarians are female.

Talley maintains the secret to long life is faith in God and being kind to others, but her family still can’t believe Talley is celebrating her 116th birthday this week.

“I want to be able to live that long myself,” Aisha Holloway, her 39-year-old great-granddaughter, said in a phone call. “I work at a rehab center where I see older people that give up, so it’s kinda emotional because I see my grandma at this age and still fighting.”

Likewise, Talley’s daughter Thelma adds Talley’s long life “is something her grand children and great-grandchildren can be proud of, history for them to read about.”

Courtesy of Christonna CampbellTalley holds great-great grandson Armmell Holloway at home, May 13, 2014.
Courtesy of Michael KinlochTalley pictured with her fishing buddy Michael Kinloch’s family the day after Thanksgiving, November 29, 2013. (L-R) Michael’s youngest son and Talley’s godson Tyler, Michael’s wife Elaine, and Michael’s oldest son Ramon and his fiancé Andrea (both doctors), and Michael.
Courtesy of Michael KinlochTalley puts the bait on her fishing pole at the Spring Valley Trout Farm in Dexter, Michigan, May 25, 2013.
Courtesy of Michael KinlochTalley with (L-R) the owners of Spring Valley Trout Farm in Dexter, Michigan, her friend Mary Kennedy, and her godson Tyler Kinloch, May 25, 2013.
TIME society

Couple Who Immigrated to America Leaves $847K Estate to U.S. Government

Mystery continues to surround their generous donation

A Seattle couple, who met after the husband fled Nazi-occupied Europe to American shores, have left their entire estate the “to the government of the United States of America” in their identical wills, reports ABC.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Treasury received a cashier’s check for $847,215.57 on behalf of the estate of Peter and Joan Petrasek.

Although the couple never explicitly stated their reason for the donation, officials have pointed to the couple’s immigrant roots and the husband’s escape from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia as a possible reason behind the generosity. Joan was also an immigrant originally from Ireland.

“This case is interesting because it seems to be that these were two immigrants who felt grateful to have this adoptive country open its arms to them after having a hard time in Eastern Europe during World War II,” said Peter Winn, the U.S. assistant attorney who helped handle the case, told the broadcaster.

“It’s pretty obvious these folks felt pretty proud they were U.S. citizens.”

[ABC]

TIME society

110-Year-Old Man Says a Beer a Day Is the Secret to Longevity

He drinks one every day at 3 p.m.

Nebraska’s oldest man says a beer a day is the reason he’s lived to 110.

Supercentenarian Mark Behrends, who recently celebrated his 110th birthday, claims his daily alcohol consumption is what’s keeping him going, Omaha.com reports.

“He always told everybody the reason he has lived so long is drinking one can of beer, every day at 3 p.m.,” his daughter Lois Bassinger told Omaha.com.

Behrends might be onto something. In a study published in 2010, University of Texas-Austin researchers indicated that moderate drinkers have a lower mortality risk than non-drinkers and heavy drinkers. The oldest person ever, Jeanne Calment, died at 122 and did not consume hard alcohol, but occasionally had a glass of wine at lunch.

[Omaha.com]

TIME society

The Next Irish Revolution: Same-Sex Marriage

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Getty Images

Very-Catholic Ireland may beat the somewhat-secular United States to the finish line on same-sex marriage

While Americans are waiting to hear whether the Supreme Court will bring marriage equality to all fifty states, millions of Irish voters will be going to the polls to make the same decision in a national vote on May 22. Will very-Catholic Ireland beat the somewhat-secular United States to the finish line on same-sex marriage?

Answering this question requires a closer look at today’s Ireland. For most people in the U.S—aside from celebrating St. Patrick’s Day—knowledge of Ireland begins and ends with the country’s deep roots in the Catholic Church. Considering the Church’s stance on homosexuality and the cultural conservatism it’s promoted in Ireland, the odds would seem pretty slim for a national gay marriage referendum to pass.

So it’s not surprising that the Church continues to oppose even civil marriage for Irish same-sex couples. However, in the possibly kinder-and-gentler Pope Francis era, the Church has also had its say in a very different voice. The Archbishop of Dublin called for the referendum debate to be “carried on rationally and with respectful argument.” He even chastised some opponents of marriage equality for using language that “is not just intemperate but obnoxious, insulting, and unchristian in regard to gay and lesbian people.”

Though its call for compassion has been sung in a different key, the Church’s arguments for a No vote have a familiar ring, even when toned down. When I visited Ireland in March to give a lecture on the research on marriage equality around the world, I heard many common concerns: Marriage will be redefined. Children will be harmed. Same-sex couples can get civil partnerships, so they don’t need marriage.

A large and growing international body of research says otherwise, though. The sky doesn’t fall on heterosexual marriage, and children of lesbian, gay, and bisexual parents do just fine. Civil partnerships might do as much harm as good, reminding same-sex couples of their second-class status. Same-sex couples and different-sex couples alike reject alternatives to marriage when they have the choice—everybody prefers marriage.

But the Church isn’t calling the shots. As it has before with divorce, birth control, and other issues, the Irish public is listening to the arguments and will make up its own mind about individual and collective choices that go against Church teachings. The May 22nd referendum emerged from a 2013 joint citizen-politician Constitutional Convention, with 79% of members supporting a marriage equality constitutional amendment. Two years later, opinion polls show that a clear majority of the Irish public is planning to vote yes.

Younger Irish people are out in front of the charge for equality. In a recent poll, 90% of 18-35 year olds said they would vote yes. They want to live in a country that’s in step with global trends and modern ideals of equality. Tommy Meskill, age 20, told the Irish Times, “I don’t want to be associated with a country who would say no to marriage equality, and I don’t think most people my age would want to be, either.”

The 20-somethings are bringing their elders along by any means necessary. The Twitter hashtag, #RingYourGranny, shows videos of students calling their parents and grandparents and having real conversations about why marriage equality is important.

Not to be outdone, a steady stream of parents of lesbians and gay men are coming out publicly to support their children who want to marry a same-sex partner. As one activist put it, even the old curmudgeons understand the importance of marriage as a solid foundation for same-sex couples and their families.

Those parents have been joined in their support by cultural icons ranging from the Irish hurlers (a traditional Irish sport) who want their gay teammates to be able to marry, to the prime minister and prominent Catholics like former president Mary McAleese. A Donegal priest recently made the news with his pledge to vote Yes. Every mainstream political party in Ireland supports a Yes vote, and some are contributing their members to a door-to-door campaign.

Even with this support, the marriage equality advocates aren’t resting on their lead in the polls. Turnout is often low for these referenda. Only a little more half of those enthusiastic young people say they are likely to vote this time around. And the political old-timers remember that divorce was voted into the Irish constitution in 1995 with a margin of fewer than 10,000 votes out of 1.6 million—about one vote per polling place according to a marriage equality leader.

Church bishops are gearing up in the closing weeks of the campaign, and priests are delivering the No vote message directly to their parishioners at Mass this month. The Yes supporters expect some narrowing of the opinion polls as voters make up their minds and firm up their opinions. This vote could be a squeaker.

If the polls are correct, though, Ireland will be the first country in the world to give same-sex couples the right to marry through a popular vote. That this political milestone could happen in a Catholic country will have global implications. Ireland will join a handful of more secular Catholic countries that allow same-sex couples to marry—Spain, Portugal, France, and Argentina. But Ireland will be the one with a blueprint for a successful national campaign to take to Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Philippines and other more conservative Catholic countries as marriage equality continues to spread around the world.

M. V. Lee Badgett is a professor of economics and director of the Center for Public Policy Administration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is also a Williams Distinguished Scholar at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

This Is Michelle Obama’s Workout Routine

Get a closer look at the First Lady's fitness regimen

Michelle Obama released a video of her workout routine to inspire Americans to exercise regularly as part of the #GimmeFive challenge, which celebrates the fifth anniversary of the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to raise awareness about healthy living in the United States. The video is a response to a good-natured challenge posted by her husband, President Obama, on Twitter last week. It’s also reminiscent of an Instagram video that her friend Beyoncé released of her own exercise regimen.

In the video, you will see Obama lifting weights, jump-roping and boxing, but it looks like dancing is not part of her regular routine.

TIME society

Disney World Wants You to Stop Using Selfie Sticks on Rides

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Getty Images Tourists ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

It's the latest tourist attraction to crack down on use of the phone accessory

It’s a small world, and Disney World says there is no room for selfie sticks on rides anymore.

Now there is a “No Selfie Sticks” sign at Magic Kingdom’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, similar to policies recently implemented at Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland in California. A spokesperson for the theme park told the Orlando Sentinel that the accessories could be brought onboard but must be stored.

The theme park is the latest tourist attraction to ban selfie sticks, from museums worldwide such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art to sporting events like the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

TIME society

Sikh Man Breaks Religious Rule and Removes His Turban to Save a Child

"I think anyone else would have done the same as me"

A Sikh man broke strict religious protocol on Friday and removed his turban to help a child who’d been hit by a car outside his home in Auckland.

Harman Singh, 22, saw that the 5-year-old boy’s head was bleeding and acted immediately, removing his turban despite the fact that his religion prohibits him to do so in public.

“I wasn’t thinking about the turban,” Singh told The New Zealand Herald. “I was thinking about the accident and I just thought, ‘He needs something on his head because he’s bleeding.’ That’s my job – to help.”

He added: “I think anyone else would have done the same as me.”

Singh’s heroic act earned him praise around the world over the weekend. “Total strangers are asking to be friends on Facebook and thousands of people have said ‘Well done,’ ” he told the paper Saturday. “I was only doing what I had to and trying to be a decent member of the community.”

The boy was taken to the hospital with life-threatening head injuries, though he was in stable condition as of Friday evening.

 

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME society

Baltimore’s Refusal to Be Silent Was an American Triumph

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Like the youth of the 1960s Free Speech Movement, the citizens who took to the streets in April 2015 roared against unfairness

Four days after protests in Baltimore turned violent, I found myself looking into every black face I saw as I made my way through Pittsburgh International Airport, wanting to say something huge-hearted and restorative. My eyes were wet, my chest full but also empty, as if a balloon were lodged there and about to pop. I looked at all the white faces, too, thinking, Don’t you know me? Don’t we mean something to each another?

My emotional state surprised me, but then again it didn’t. I’d spent the night before talking about race with my brother and his family, talking about Baltimore, about what it means to be the mother of black sons, even in a town with a black mayor. I felt vulnerable, disappointed. I also felt complicit, as if somehow I, in speaking only in the safe setting of family about the nature of my own fears, had become part of what I now sensed to be the problem.

I am a writer not because I am seldom at a loss for words, but rather because it is language itself that alerts me to what I think and believe. So how could it be that I’d kept so quiet about a topic of such urgent intensity, such relevance to someone exactly like me?

Our sense of race shapes the ways we explain ourselves to ourselves, and, by extension, what we tell ourselves about everyone who isn’t us. And yet, how often does the centuries’ old knot of race—a knot you can set out with every intention of unraveling, even as someone standing directly behind you gets to work tying the thing right back up again—render even the most expressive among us hopelessly tongue-tied?

There are numerous ways to connect the dots linking the three white cops, the three black cops, Freddie Gray’s severed spinal cord, his ensuing death, weeks of outcry from black community members, police cars destroyed, and a pharmacy looted and burned. But practically all the news outlets summed up the unrest in largely black communities as rioting, a label that gave some viewers permission to frown upon it, condemn it, hold it up as evidence of black barbarism and self-destruction—as proof of why inequality exists in the first place. The term rioting let those of us watching from a safe distance and buffered by privilege or sheer luck off the hook. What should have been our nation’s shared burden of collective failure was borne instead by those who had been failed. I don’t think I ever caught myself using the word “rioting,” but how many times did I turn away from images of that frenzy, the mess of those streets?

But if what happened in April 2015 in Baltimore was indeed rioting, then I would wager that so were the uprisings in Paris, Mexico City, and Prague in 1968—tumultuous unrest that cemented for citizens the world over the absolute value of democracy. If citizens who took to the streets of Baltimore in April 2015 were rioters, then so was UC Berkeley undergraduate Mario Savio, who helped galvanize upper-middle-class, white, educated American youth around the Free Speech movement in 1964 with this admonition:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!

The visceral quality of that machine metaphor conjures the physical nature of conflict, of vulnerability, in such moments of all-out commitment. It invokes our sense of Civil Rights activists “going limp,” the lynched bodies hanging from the branches of American trees, the bodies made to march under the weight of guns, made to take aim at other bodies in the name of war. And the relevance of those terms to the events happening only days ago in Baltimore makes me feel foolish—outright delusional—for having once thought the many decades separating us in our 21st-century now from that awful then might keep us—and not just those of us who are black, but all of us—safe.

The beliefs we hold, whether they are expressed or not, live inside of language, even private language. Years ago, when the news was filled with stories of Somali pirates holding passenger ships and international cargo ships hostage, I wrote a poem called “Ransom.” It began:

When the freighters inch past in the distance

The men load their small boats. They motor out,

Buzzing like mosquitoes, aimed at the iron

Side of the blind ship as it creeps closer.

I wasn’t an avid reader of stories that trucked in the romantic, swashbuckling pirate clichés, but I could sense that the particular anger incited by stories about the Somali pirates, even in me, was not remote from a racially charged subtext.

My poem, though I didn’t know it until after it was finished, was an act of empathy, an attempt to pull myself away from the facile nature of the prevailing narrative—the one about depraved African villains preying upon innocent westerners. I shocked even myself when I found my way to these lines late in the poem:

The white men scramble. Some fight back.

When one is taken, the whole world sits up

To watch. When the pirates fall, the world

Smiles to itself, thanking goodness. They

Show the black faces and the dead black bodies

On TV.

The explicit verbal acknowledgment of the complicated things race causes us to think and fear and feel is a necessary counterbalance to the race-based disregard (or worse) that so often infects our views of one another. Sometimes it seems that the words we live with and by do little more than delineate a line separating a constantly shifting Us from Them, solidifying the barrier between what we are comfortable claiming and what we can see, but haven’t yet learned to name, let alone admit.

When I caught the news of Marilyn Mosby’s decision to bring charges against the six police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray—moments after my flight had landed—I gave myself over to tears. In Mosby’s charges, I heard someone saying no to Freddie Gray’s assailants, no to the false terms that too often trick us into letting not just bad cops but ourselves, too, off of the hook. Terms like “thug,” like “suspicious activity,” like “stand your ground,” like “ghetto.” Even the milder but no less dangerous statements (“playing the race card,” “you’re so articulate,” “angry black woman”) that give a toehold to a breezy, glib self-satisfaction that allows us to get away, too much of the time, with telling ourselves that we’ve got one another all figured out.

When I am content to be an American, it is because, for the most part, we have developed the capacity to live beside one another without much gawking and pointing, or worse—and because, when we fail in this regard, we sometimes find ways to talk about it. But when I am truly humbled by America—when I find myself ecstatic with gratitude and hope—it is because someone has made the difficult choice to address the failure of our silence in language that complicates things rather than simplifying them, that urges contemplation rather than pat summation, that invites the listener to join in the difficult work of grappling with and admitting to the many nuanced and sometimes troubling layers of private feelings each of us houses. It is because, no matter what might be waiting to render the attempt futile, someone has lent a set of hands and pair of able eyes to the task of teasing apart that troublesome knot.

Tracy K. Smith is the author of the memoir Ordinary Light, and the recipient of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Life on Mars. She is a professor at Princeton University. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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