90-Year-Old Great-Grandmother Graduates from College, 71 Years After Starting: ‘You Can Never Quit Learning’

Joyce Defauw
Facebook/Northern Illinois University

A 90-year-old great-grandmother will remarkably graduate from college Sunday, 71 years after starting her studies.

Joyce Defauw, then Joyce Viola Kane, enrolled into Northern Illinois University (NIU) in 1951, where initially she wanted to become a teacher but switched her major to home economics. She had completed three years of her degree, but she met a man at church that she says “stole my heart,” eventually getting married in 1955 and dropping out around the same time.

Joyce went on to have three children with her husband, Don Freeman Sr., sharing three years of marriage before he passed away.

After living as a widow for about five years, Joyce met her second husband, Roy DeFauw, together having six children and two sets of twins. Since then, she has had 17 children and 24 great-grandchildren.

While she was initially upset about not finishing her degree, she had come to peace with it and was happy raising her children and being involved in her grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s lives.

But with all her children and grandchildren grown up, Joyce started thinking again in 2019 about the college education she never finished.

“I guess I mentioned I was upset that I didn’t finish school and my children encouraged me to go back,” Joyce recalled to CNN.

Through her children’s help, Joyce enrolled back into NIU that year to finish what she had once started.

“I thought about it for a little while. Then I thought, ‘Why not?’” Joyce told NIU at the time. “I have all the time in the world and the ability.”

Joyce did not have to return to campus as she could complete her studies from the comfort of her home using a computer, despite never having owned one before. Although she was initially intimidated by using a computer, she eventually learned how to use it with the help of her children

The great-grandmother was already accustomed to learning online when the pandemic hit in March 2020, but being isolated and the difficulties of her studies were almost too much for her at the time.

“A lot of times I would have quit. I almost did,” Joyce recalled to NIU recently. “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.'”

However, Joyce never gave up and continued to persevere in her learning. She even took courses she never thought she would have taken before 2019, including social psychology, gerontology, and adult age development, according to USA Today.

After three years of dedication and overcoming challenges, Joyce will finally walk across the stage Sunday, graduating with a Bachelor of General Studies degree. She says she will be thankful to all those who encouraged and helped her along the way.

“I’ve learned that I can do things I never thought I could do, with the help of others,” the 90-year-old said, reflecting on her unique college education experience.

“You can never quit learning,” she added.

You can follow Ethan Letkeman on Twitter at @EthanLetkeman.


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