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News 'Never too late' for education

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Carol White graduates at age 81 with degree in American history

​One of UD's newest graduates, Carol White, 81, stands with family members at the Department of History Convocation ceremony in May.

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 experience.

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 walk.’”

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 blossomed.’”

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

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Carol White took her first UD class in 2001 and persisted through a variety of challenges, graduating this May with a bachelor's degree in American history at age 81.

Carol White took her first UD class in 2001 and persisted through a variety of challenges, graduating this May with a bachelor's degree in history at age 81 and with plans to continue her education.

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'Never too late' for education
  • Department of History
  • 46 W. Delaware Avenue
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • University of Delaware
  • Phone: 302-831-2371