80-year-old to receive college degree from UNCW this weekend

Updated: Dec. 11, 2019 at 11:50 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Hundreds of students will reach a milestone when they graduate from UNCW this weekend. For Leita McCormick, the graduation march has been fifty years in the making.

"All of my children, my grandchildren, everybody had a degree and I said ‘you know I think that is something I would like to add to my name,’” McCormick said.

She actually took her first college course in 1966 and spent 20 years moving state to state for her husband’s job. She took college classes wherever they moved, but never finished her degree. She took more than 30 years off, and always kept the idea of getting her diploma in the back of her mind.

After her husband died from Alzheimer’s disease, “it was time, it was time to devote myself to something for me to accomplish,” she said.

McCormick’s children and grandchildren will be in the audience when she turns her tassel on Saturday. She says she never worried about it being too late.

“I really didn’t because I knew I had it in me, you know, to do it, and I ... why not, you know?” she said. “If you were to ask what was the most difficult part, I’ll just tell you its getting up to grade on the computer. I mean... believe me, it was all very new to me!”

Despite those challenges and being a “non-traditional student," Professor Rick Olsen says she proved to be an exemplary student. She was awarded one of the communication studies department’s highest awards: the Cunningham Department Exemplar Award.

“It wasn’t because she was a novelty act. It was because we sat around and said who blended academic achievement, personal growth, embodied our ideals, embodied what we call our core skills that we want all our students to have -- civility, responsibility, curiosity, problem solving -- all of these things we know matter in the marketplace, matter in life and we said who is that person and we all went ‘it’s her,’” Olsen said.

“Even though I was non-traditional, I felt like just one of the other students and we had great relationships,” McCormick said.

While McCormick says her degree opens the door to a wide variety of career options, she intends to recommit herself to music, as an avid pianist, and her volunteer work.

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