When Carol White
registered for her first class at the University of Delaware in 2001,
she never imagined walking across the stage years later at her
convocation ceremony in a cap and blue graduation gown.
But this May, White, 81,
earned her bachelor’s degree in American history as one of the oldest
members of the Class of 2018.
“It is the best decision that I believe I ever made,” White said.
“Education is the only thing that is yours forever and nobody can take
it from you.”
Having spent much of her life in Delaware, White said many of her
family members graduated from the University, so she was familiar with
UD. Decades ago, she went to college in Miami, Florida, to become a
court stenographer, but she never viewed that as a real college
At Delaware, she took that first course to see if she had what it took to
pass a college class. Of course, she did.
Prior to becoming a UD student, White had a career that included
working for the FBI in Florida, Alabama and Texas. During that time, she
also worked with many government officials, including former Alabama
Gov. George Wallace, former Federal Judge Frank Minis Johnson Jr. and
former Texas Gov. John Connally. White was married, but lost her husband
to cancer while they resided in Houston, Texas. She then decided to transfer
to Wilmington and worked for former U.S. District Judge Jane Roth.
While White lived an interesting life, she said she always felt she
was working for others. She got her first job to support her parents and
eventually her husband through his studies and sickness. Going back to
school was something just for her.
“I went to work when I was 19 and I quit when I was 71,” White said.
“So I have gone to work every day, eight hours a day, for 52 years. So
then I decided it was my time. I’m going to do what I want to do. So
that’s what I’m doing.”
White took one class each semester in the afternoons on UD’s
Wilmington campus, while she was still working. About a year in, she
discovered her love for American history and chose this area as her
major. Once she retired, she was able to attend classes on the Newark
campus during the day.
She admitted it was not easy. She said her classes were challenging.
She struggled crafting thesis statements for her essays, and it took
some time to learn to use the online class portals. But she did not let
any obstacle stop her — not even health complications.
A breast cancer diagnosis forced White to take leaves of absence, but
she always found her way back. She was so dedicated that she once took
an exam shortly after undergoing minor surgery.
“I took it and I made an A, and I’d only been off the table about 24
hours,” White said. “I thought, ‘I have to get to school if I have to
She never missed class, never arrived late and always submitted her assignments on time.
White said she loved interacting with younger students, had some wonderful professors and enjoyed the variety of classes UD offered. Her favorite classes included ones she took on volcanoes and
earthquakes, the Holocaust and the Roaring '20s.
Despite her positive experience, she said she was often lonely as an older student.
“Young people have their thoughts and their activities that are
really not in my mind, and then my category of friends and close
friends, too, they’re walking on another path,” White said. “They cannot
understand and would say, ‘Why would you do this to yourself? Why would
you punish yourself? You mean you’re going to write papers and take
tests? You’ve got to be kidding.’ And then they have such a negative
attitude about it.”
But White made her decision and saw it through. In addition to earning a degree, she said her confidence grew tremendously.
“I have proved to myself that you can do what you want to do if you
work hard,” White said. “I used to be very shy. I didn’t want to talk to
people. Overall, it just changed me and I’ve had people tell me, ‘You
have really changed since you went back to school. You have just
Now, she’s ready to figure out what’s next. She wants to pursue
another degree, but is still trying to figure out what makes sense for
her goals and finances. She’s cancer free with lots of energy, so she
has no plans to slow down any time soon.
“It’s really been a 16-year journey for me to get this,” White said.
“So, I would highly recommend anybody, no matter what college they
choose, that it's never too late to go back and get your college degree
or maybe your master’s or even your doctorate.”
Article by Carlett Spike; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson