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98-year-old student says he feels "born again" after learning to read and write

posted 31 Mar 2012, 05:25 by Mpelembe   [ updated 31 Mar 2012, 05:25 ]

Just days from his 99th birthday, James Arruda Henry stresses to children the importance of learning to read and write. Only a few years ago, Henry learned to read and write his name.

MYSTIC, CONNECTICUT, UNITED STATES (MARCH 30, 2012) (REUTERS - Illiterate for more than 90 years, a man in Connecticut is proving that you are never too old to learn.

James Arruda Henry, Jim to his friends, is 98 years old and until recently, he could not read and could not write his own name.

While in his mid-nineties, Henry began to learn to read and write with the help of a volunteer tutor.

Henry used his newfound knowledge to write a book called "In A Fisherman's Language". The self-published book is an autobiography of how he arrived in the United States from the Azores to become a lobster boat captain.

Henry's story has inspired children and adults around the world to read. And Henry is encouraging children to keep learning.

During a visit to the senior living center where Henry lives, about 20 children from a local elementary school came to hear him speak and to celebrate his upcoming birthday. Henry will turn 99 on April 19.

From his wheelchair, Henry urged the children to read, write, learn and to take advantage of opportunities that he never had. As a child, at about the age of the third grade children in the room, Henry left school to work. Henry said he is thankful he finally learned to read.

"I tell ya, I felt like I was just born again. From one step to the other, I was just born and I appreciate and I thank God for that because I always wanted to learn and never had the opportunity. I had to keep working and doing something," he told Reuters on Friday (March 30).

The children made a book for Henry filled with handwritten notes of encouragement and gratitude. The children called the book "In a 3rd Graders Language" as a tribute to Henry's book.

"I'm so proud of what I have accomplished. I never thought that book.. it was so small and yet is so big. And I'll tell ya, from all of the countries, they are writing to me and everything and the fan mail makes tears come to my eyes. I'm crying all the time. I don't even like to read some of them because I start crying right away. Like now, I ain't got enough handkerchiefs. I usually carry three or four and I get them all wet."

Despite his overwhelming achievements and media attention, Henry remains humble and offers an easy smile.

Henry can not visit classrooms, so in his place a copy of his book will be sent to schools around the country. Henry hopes the book will be seen by students in all 50 states.

"The best thing to do is to teach them how to read and write. It's very important in life and I'm telling you from someone that knows. I've been through that and I know it's very, very important to know that and I appreciate everybody that does that," he said.

Henry said he also hopes the book will encourage children to help adults who may be ashamed of living without literacy to learn to read. "That's my ambition," he said before posing for photographs where, instead of "Cheese", the children shouted "Read!".