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“You Will Be Victorious.” Great-Grandma Earns Degree Decades After Dropping Out.

joyce in her cap and gown at commencement, smiling in joy

Seventy-one years is a long time to wait for something you’ve always wanted. Yet according to Joyce DeFauw, it’s never too late to make your dreams come true!

Joyce is a 90-year-old mother of nine, grandmother of 17, and great-grandmother of 24. You’d think the Geneseo, Illinois matriarch would be exhausted and ready to put her feet up in retirement, but you’d be wrong. Instead, Joyce just made history as one of the oldest graduates of Northern Illinois University.

Back in 1951, Joyce enrolled in NIU hoping to get a degree in home economics. She almost made it to graduation, but three-and-a-half years in, she says she “met this good looking guy” in church and eventually the two decided to get married. Putting her degree on hold, Joyce had three babies in three years before her husband passed away a few years later.

She spent five years as a widow before remarrying and having six more children, including two sets of twins. She clearly had her hands full, yet she never stopped thinking about that unfinished college degree.

Joyce mentioned this feeling of unfinished business to her children, who were supportive. They bought her a computer and urged her to finish the degree. Finally, in 2019, she decided the time was right! She enrolled in NIU and took online courses towards a general studies bachelor’s degree. Every day she sat down and did some school work, even when it was hard and she felt like giving up.

“A lot of times I would have quit. I almost did,” she admitted. “There were just too many people who knew about it. I didn’t want to let them down. I quit once and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do it again.'”

So Joyce soldiered on! Her hard work paid when she finally donned her cap and gown and graduated with the class of 2022.

Joyce has some words of wisdom for anyone who’s considering challenging themselves like she did.

“Keep going. Don’t give up,” she told GMA. “You might feel like it and all that, but just hang in there because the end will come and you will be victorious.”

The new grad praised the teachers and staff at NIU for helping and encouraging her every step of the way. Between the professors and her family, she felt very supported throughout her academic journey. NIU President Dr. Lisa Freeman says the respect and admiration goes both ways.

“Joyce DeFauw is an inspiration, a trailblazer, and now an Northern Illinois University college graduate,” she said. “She has beautifully shown that earning a degree is life-changing at any age, and that it’s never too late to pursue new knowledge.”

We all have regrets about opportunities we didn’t pursue in our youth. It’s so nice to see someone deciding to right that wrong like this incredible great-grandma!

Share this story to congratulate Joyce on earning her degree after all this time.

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