90-year-old great-grandmother to graduate from college after starting classes 70 years ago

A 90-year-old great-grandmother who left college in the 50s but returned more than half a century later is now about to graduate. (Source: WLS, NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY, JOYCE DEFAUW, CNN)
Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 11:13 AM EST
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CHICAGO (WLS) – A 90-year-old great-grandmother who left college in the 50s but returned more than half a century later is now about to graduate.

Joyce Defauw will finally wear her cap and gown when she officially crosses the stage at Northern Illinois University, a journey that began in 1951.

“I went three and a half years and then I quit,” Defauw explained. “In the meantime, I met this gentleman who stole my heart and eye, and we decided to get married.”

Defauw grew up in a small farming community outside the Quad Cities, going to grade school in a one-room schoolhouse.

A few years after dropping out of college to get married, Defauw’s life took another turn.

“We had three children and then he passed away. I was a widow of five years,” Defauw said.

Defauw eventually remarried and had six more children, and her college diploma seemed even further away.

Now, a grandmother of 17, Defauw said while she didn’t think much about returning to college, it was always a wish.

So, with the help of her adult children, Defauw began taking classes, using a computer for the first time.

“I did not have one, I never knew how to use one. They got me one. That’s how I went to class,” Defauw said.

In four years of taking classes, Defauw was only on campus once – when NIU honored students doing well after the first semester.

Now, she will return Sunday to finish the journey that began nearly 70 years ago.

“Don’t give up. Even if you do quit, go back. Just hang in there. Keep learning. Keep giving thanks. It’s there for you. Just go for it,” Defauw advised.