'Don't give up': 90-year-old great-grandma to graduate from college after dropping out in 1950s

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Thursday, December 8, 2022
Great-grandma to graduate from NIU after dropping out in 1950s
90-year-old grandma and college student Joyce Defauw is set to graduate from Northern Illinois University in Dekalb IL after dropping out in the 1950s

CHICAGO -- In just a few days, Joyce Defauw will finally wear her cap and gown and officially cross the stage at Northern Illinois University. It's a journey that began in 1951.

"I went 3.5 years, and I quit," Joyce said. "In the meantime, I met this gentleman who stole my heart and eye we decided to get married."

Joyce grew up in a small farming community outside the Quad Cities, going to grade school in a one-room school house. A few years after dropping out of college to get married, Joyce's life took another turn.

"We had three children, and then he passed away. I was a widow of five years," Joyce said.

Joyce eventually remarried and had six more children. That college diploma seemed further away.

"I was just busy with family from '55 when I got married until 2019," Joyce said.

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

I guess I told my children I wish I had finished way back when... what's stopping you now? Nothing I guess," Joyce said.

So, with the help of her adult children, Joyce, who was no longer driving, began taking classes using a computer, she said, for the first time.

"I did not have one never knew how to use one they got me one that's how I went to class," Joyce said.

In four years of taking classes, Joyce was on campus only once, when Northern Illinois University honored students doing well after the first semester. Now, she will return in-person to finish the journey that began nearly 70 years ago, with a message for others, like her younger self.

"Don't give up. Even if you do quit, go back," Joyce said. "Just hang in there. Keep learning. Keep giving thanks. It's there for you. Just go for it."

The commencement is happening on Sunday. There's no doubt Joyce will be surrounded by family. She has 17 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren, with two more on the way. She said she's full of thanks and praise for everyone in her life that made this possible.