A Lifelong Learner

At 72 years old, Vivian Carrington is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the Hamilton Holt School.

Vivian Carrington graduates in May of 2014 with a degree from the Hamilton Holt School. (Photo by Scott Cook) Vivian Carrington graduates in May of 2014 with a degree from the Hamilton Holt School. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Four years ago, Vivian Carrington ’14 sat with her dear friend Wolf Kahn for one of their regular discussions about life and how to live it meaningfully. Kahn, a Holocaust survivor, and Carrington, a 72-year-old African American who lived during segregation, might seem like an unlikely duo, but until his passing two years ago, they were best friends.

“He looked at me that day and said, Vivian, what’s the one thing you never had the chance to do but wish you could still do,” Vivian recalls. “I told him that I wanted to get a degree from Rollins College.”  

Spurred on by Kahn’s appeal to go for it, Carrington, who’s better known as Miss Vi, enrolled in the Hamilton Holt School as a communication major in the fall of 2010.

Before you start to feel impressed that at 70 she decided to get a degree, let me tell you the whole story of this extraordinary woman.

Born in Georgia in 1940 and raised in Orlando, Carrington was the first female African American lifeguard hired by the City of Orlando. Over the next 55 years, she’s gone on to teach swimming to thousands of children at the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Frontline Outreach, John Long Memorial Pool, and many city pools.

In 1982, Carrington received a degree from Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service in Atlanta, Georgia, and went on to spend 24 years in that career, while still teaching swimming on the side.

As if having two careers wasn’t enough, Carrington attended a bible seminary at United Bible College and received her doctorate in theology in 1991. Prior to accomplishing her degree, she was inspired to write a book of poems called Treasures of Inspirations.

In her spare time, she runs a prison ministry, where she focuses on helping newly released female convicts recreate a new life outside of prison. “I just feel like something needs to be done; someone has to care,” she says. Carrington finds them housing, leads classes on getting their life back together, and helps them look their best for interviews by providing professional clothes and doing their hair. (She’s also a professional hairdresser.)

In addition to all this, Carrington and her husband of 44 years are the pastors of a small Christian ministry called New Life Christian Counseling in Maitland. Her daughter, Angie, is a nurse and lives in Tampa.

But Carrington has always yearned to go to Rollins. “It’s challenging being a student, but it’s almost like the peace I have when I am in the water swimming,” Carrington says.

Carrington is the oldest student in all of her classes by far, something she doesn’t mind one bit. “I feel like I belong here,” she says. “I don’t feel that I am out of place. This is where I am supposed to be. I feel at home.”

Since starting her classes, Carrington feels as though her mental engines have revved up again. “I think everyone, when they get to a certain age, needs to do something with their mind or they just give up.”

Among her achievements, Carrington has received awards such as a Trailblazer award from Association to Preserve African-American Society, History and Tradition; a Finer Womanhood Award from Zeta Phi Beta Sorority; and a Jones High School Centennial Distinguished Service Award in sports. She is also a member of Epsilon Zeta chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. 

After she walks across the stage next may, she plans to become a chaplain at Florida Hospital where she’ll work with grieving and dying patients.

Her plan, she tells me, is to live to 120. Lord only knows what she’ll be getting up to in the meantime, but it’s going to be something, that’s for sure.