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79 years later, Berthe Gersten, 93, gets second valedictorian nod

Valedictorian Berthe Gersten, 93, of Commack, congratulates fellow

Valedictorian Berthe Gersten, 93, of Commack, congratulates fellow adult education graduates at the Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Commack on Thursday, June 19, 2014. Credit: Meghan Fitzgerald

Berthe Gersten, a 93-year-old resident of Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Commack, has had no shortage of accomplishments. She is fluent in five languages, served as a translator for reporters during World War II in Europe, and was even a medal-winning hurdler and javelin thrower in the Israel Maccabiah, a Jewish international athletic event.

Gersten is now also a two-time valedictorian. She was the top scholar in 1935 at the Alliance Israelite Francaise in Jerusalem. And 79 years later, on June 19, she was celebrated as valedictorian of Gurwin’s adult education program at its 26th annual commencement.

"I am thirsty for any knowledge that can come my way," Gersten said. "My favorite is always the arts, and they run a very good program here."

Gersten was one of 34 residents in Gurwin’s program. The group dressed in caps and gowns and celebrated its achievements beside family members, friends and the therapeutic recreation staff at the commencement.

"We study very hard to develop each course," said Karen Nash, the director of therapeutic recreation at Gurwin.

For the 2013-2014 class, the 11-member therapeutic staff created nine classes, facilitated once a week, that ranged from cinematography to Spanish.

Gersten’s daughter, Varda Gurwin, 61, of Dix Hills, beamed with pride about her mother’s latest achievement. "She's always been quite the character," she said. "I am so proud of her. We all look up to her."

Gersten has no intentions of settling down just yet. Speaking to the commencement audience at Gurwin, she said, "You thought we would be at an end when you brought us here -- but surprise, surprise, we beat the odds!"

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