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Never giving up on dreams: 85-year-old Holocaust refugee applies to medical school

Eberhard Lehnardt, age 85, puts on his white coat as part of his honorary acceptance. (Tanner Siegworth, KSL-TV)

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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – A unique student has applied for admission at the University of Utah medical school. He stood out not because of his scores on the entrance exams, but because of the year he took them.

It's always been a dream of his to get in.

Big dreams are not uncommon on college campuses. Each year at the U., 4,000 people dream of attending the School of Medicine. Of all those applicants, none have dreamt nearly as long as Eberhard Lehnardt, age 85, who lives in Springville.

He's applying because he knows there's a lot of hardship in the world. Nobody understands hardship quite like Eberhard.

"I hope they say, 'Welcome,'" Eberhard said.

He passed the MCAT in 1965 and has always wanted to go to medical school.

There have been so many reasons to give up: the Holocaust in his homeland, Germany, that made him a refugee and gave him responsibilities as a young father serving in the Air Force.

His son, Michael Lehnardt said, "He attempted a few times to get in, but the kids got in the way." Michael turned to his father and said, "I'm sorry about that, Dad."

For 23 years, Eberhard has lived with Parkinson's disease. "There's not a lot of years left for this guy," Michael said. "He keeps moving, he keeps fighting, he says, 'I'm not going to give in to my illness, I'm going to do the best I can.'"

Though he is most at risk during the pandemic, that's exactly why he applied.

"'He said, 'Get my application together, I want to go and help. I want to help them,'" Michael said.

With the help of Michael, he created this application in extra big print. "This is the type of person who will fight 'til the bitter end," said Michael, reading the letter of recommendation he wrote for Eberhard.

Then, he looked at him, and through tears, said, "Nice job, Dad."

With his mantra by Winston Churchill: "Never, never, never give up," Eberhard said; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "We shall overcome," he had an honorary meeting with the dean of admissions and a symbolic acceptance.

"I was touched to read your story," said Dr. Benjamin Chan, Associate Dean of Admissions, University of Utah School of Medicine. "I would be happy to accept your application on behalf of the admissions committee."

Then, Chan presented Eberhard with a white doctor's coat and helped him put it on. "How's that feel?" Chan asked.

"Great!" Eberhard said. His brother, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren applauded with a shout of, "Yay, Opa!" which means "grandpa," in German.

"Wonderful," Eberhard said. "Unbelievable." He also described the moment as, "Heaven."

Michael said, "It's really special."

Chan said, "In my ten years being here we've never had an 85-year-old apply. But I just know that there are people out there that could learn about him, and he could be an example to them." Though Eberhard wants to go back to school, he's actually teaching us a lesson.

Eberhard said, "I'm going to get all A's."

To never give up on dreams.



Heather Simonsen


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