I've long said aging is changing -- and if you don't think so, maybe you missed the recent AARP National Convention "Life @ 50+: A Celebration of You" here in San Diego. Over 10K registrants representing 48 states and 5 foreign countries spent three days enjoying a myriad of lectures, celebrity entertainers, and hundreds of exhibits designed for attendees to "live life to the fullest," according to AARP representatives.

What used to be an organization about Social Security and cruise-line discounts, today AARP is a 35-million member group that has revamped its image and utilized this event to reflect its new personality as vital, enthusiastic, exciting, caring, and connected. Topics ranged from Third Careers, Fitness After 50, and Healthy Grandparenting to political issues with Newt Gingrich and musical performances by Tony Bennett and Patti LaBelle.

But perhaps the most impressive delivery came from one of the elders -- a member of what AARP calls the "Greatest Generation," Walter Cronkite, 85, one of, if not the most recognized news anchors in television history.

With his legendary, "You Are There," on-air trademark, Cronkite mesmerized the capacity, standing-room only crowd at the event's opening session with entertaining tales from the past and insightful responses to today's issues posed by the audience.

Certainly after spending 20 years at the CBS evening-news network desk, starting in 1962, Cronkite has seen his share of changes.

"I saw the world change -- from historic events to hairstyles--including my own!" he laughed. "But the '60s were undoubtedly tumultuous, the most amazing," Cronkite continued. "My teary-eyed account of the J.F.Kennedy assassination was one of the most difficult, and the landing on the moon presented an emotional challenge of a different kind. I had as long as NASA to prepare what I'd say, but somehow, when that vehicle actually landed on the moon, I was literally speechless. It was such a difficult time in our country then, but this was a great piece of positive news, so uplifting and hopeful."

Seeing Cronkite live, on stage, felt just like he was sitting in our living room, minus the TV box that usually surrounded him. His blue eyes still sparkle and his warm, friendly personality became ever apparent when he asked the technical crew to turn up the house lights so he could "see the folks."

Cronkite then preceeded to answer questions from the floor which ranged from what was his most memorable news experience to his biggest regret, as well as his opinion of today's media and the state of the potential war dilemna in Iraq.

"There was nothing like covering a war for memorable experiences," Cronkite shared. "I was certainly one of the most active war correspondents having flown in B52 Bombers during Vietnam, landing at Normandy in WWII and covering the Battle of the Bulge was amazing under the leadership of General Patton."

As far as the current state of today's media and the interest to raise the bar as far as quality goes, Cronkite quickly explained that the industry has changed.

"Too much time is spent on trivial news -- celebrities and scandals," Cronkite said, to which the audience responded with thunderous applause. "But it's not because we don't have good journalists--it's a reflection of how the industry has changed. All these cable channels have created stiff competition for the advertising dollar. It's not like it used to be when the three major networks each controlled upwards of 30% of the tv-audience for the evening news. Today the percentage is half that, if they're lucky, and therefore management's priorities are ratings, unfortunately. Instead of trying to improve the product, they generally have to cut production costs to save money. There are just too many fingers in the pie and that's what's really affecting the quality -- competition is fierce."

Although Cronkite claims he still misses his work and being in the newsroom, he has no regrets. "I'm quite satisfied with my life -- I'm happy with my wife and family, and being here with all of you," he said. "I don't find it useful to sit around thinking of lost opportunities. Sure, there might be some aspect of a story I might regret not pursuing, but I still write and work on documentaries -- but I'd also like to be back in the newsroom helping set the agenda."

With regard to the current dilemna in Iraq and the United Nations,Cronkite strongly believes the best agenda for the U.S. is to have both the support of its people and the U.N. But he also couldn't help to wonder if war is always the best answer.

"We spend billions of dollars determining how to kill the most people with destructive weapons, but shouldn't we also consider spending a similar amount of money on how to achieve peace?" Cronkite asked. "Settling differences with death is not the only answer."

Such words of wisdom generally only come with time and experience and it's plain to see that the great Walter Cronkite still has them both. Perhaps we should start our own grassroots campaign to bring Cronkite back to stay.

Kelly Ferrin is a local gerontologist residing in Carlsbad. She is a certified AARP retirement specialist, motivational speaker, consultant, and author of a nationally released book titled, "What's Age Got To Do With It?" For column ideas contact her at (760)438-2126 or on the internet at ageangel@earthlink.net. Kelly Ferrin, Gerontologist Lifestyles (760)438-2126 web: http://www.ageangel.com

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Cronkite shares wisdom at AARP Convention

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