90-Year-Old Woman Receives High School Diploma

At the age of 90, Eleanor Benz has finally received her high school diploma—73 years after leaving school.

This month, thousands of happy high school seniors around the country are donning caps and gowns, collecting diplomas, and celebrating the fact they can finally move on to an exciting new chapter in their lives. And while Eleanor Benz may not have quite as much spring in her step as some of her teenage compatriots, she wore a smile as wide as any fresh graduate at her ceremony on May 30th.

For Benz, graduation day had been a long time coming: 73 years, to be precise.

The 90-year-old woman from Gurnee, Illinois had attended high school during the Great Depression, and had always loved school. But her family faced severe financial pressures, and so when Benz found a job, she left school, several months shy of her graduation date. She’d always hoped to go back and finish her studies, but life had other plans: she got married, and soon had her hands full with family life, giving birth to 15 children over the course of 23 years.

But through it all, “I always had a book in my hands,” Benz told The Chicago Sun-Times.

Just before Benz’ 90th birthday, one of her daughters interviewed her for an academic assignment about the Great Depression. “When she asked what Mom’s greatest disappointment was, she answered, ‘Having to quit school a half year before I would have graduated,” said one of Benz’ other daughters, Laurie Harrington.

Knowing how much their mother had done for them over the years, Benz’ children wanted to give her the greatest birthday gift of her life. They contacted Benz’ old high school, Lake View High, and asked the school secretary, Karen Siciliano, whether she could do anything to help. Siciliano was touched by the idea, and convinced the school principal to approve a diploma for Benz.

So, on Benz’ 90th birthday, she was presented with a cap and gown and a diploma dated 1936, signed by the principal at the time.

Technically, Benz may not have had all the necessary academic credits to graduate with her class—but we’ve got a feeling that the 73 years of life experience she’s had since then more than makes up the difference.

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