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99-year-old woman receives college diploma 75 years later

Posted at 2:22 PM, May 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-28 14:25:23-04

A 99-year-old woman was finally awarded her college diploma at a special graduation ceremony after a $5 diploma fee prevented her from receiving it 75 years ago.

Jessie Rose White of Belfast, Maine, received a degree in stenography and bookkeeping after completing courses at Beal College in Bangor in 1939.

“I’m delighted!” White said Monday, “I didn’t have the money to pay for the diploma, so I didn’t get it.”

White says she put herself through bookkeeping courses with $500 her uncle had given her years before she enrolled at Beal.

“It stayed in the bank, and he specified it couldn’t be used for anything but education,” White said.

White says she used all her money to complete the required courses and could not afford the $5 diploma fee.

Dona Gilbert, a friend of White’s who recently learned about her education plight, contacted the college to share White’s story.

“She deserved a diploma. I just thought it needed to be done,” Gilbert said.

Beal College President Allen Stehle presented White with her diploma.

“He gave me a receipt showing that it was paid for,” White said. “He has a great sense of humor.”

Diagnosed with polio at 18 months old, White used crutches to make her way around the Beal campus when she was a student. She struggled to get a job after because of her disability, working as a bookkeeper and later a seamstress.

Today, after a number of foot surgeries, White uses a wheelchair.

A regular on the computer and the Internet, White intends to keep pursuing an education.

“I’ve always had a great thirst for learning, and I try to learn something new every day. I’d love to go back to college now if I had the strength.”

Gilbert says she is constantly impressed by White’s attitude.

“When I visit her, we just never stop talking,” Gilbert said. “She’s curious and always asking questions. She has taught me and enriched my life in tremendous ways.”

White was joined at her graduation by her son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

“We’re very appreciative of the care and attention to detail that was put into the graduation ceremony,” said her son, William White.

The diploma gives her maiden name, Jessie Rose Jones.

“I’m glad I had to wait 75 years, because it was more fun than it would have been in the first place,” White said.