DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Some 74 years after graduating from high school, a 91-year-old woman received a bachelor's degree from Daytona State College.
The crowd at Ocean Center in Daytona Beach erupted in applause as Irene Lewis moved across the stage Monday to receive a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in supervision and management. School officials said she is likely the oldest graduate in the 53-year history of the college.
Lewis downplayed her accomplishment, telling the Daytona Beach News-Journal that graduating "beats a movie." But the gold tassel on her cap indicated she graduated with a grade point average between 3.8 and 4.0.
"I'm only a pebble here in this group," Lewis said of the 4,200 classmates dressed in blue caps and gowns. "Just one pebble."
Lewis, a longtime resident of Ormond Beach, graduated high school in 1939 and received an Associate of Arts degree from Daytona State in 1972. She attended classes on and off over the years before deciding in 2010 to go for her degree.
"Coming back to college saved my mind," Lewis said, explaining that she had an accident with an air compressor while filling a tire seven years ago. "When you lose your independence, you go crazy, and I felt I was going in that direction. So I thought I'd go back to school, where I could concentrate on the present and forget the past."
She said she found school invigorating, both intellectually and socially.
"It has been a wonderful experience," she told the newspaper. "The satisfaction I found with people at the school was unbelievable. I met such wonderful people. These kids are a treasure."
The feeling was mutual. Shelly Francis, 42, said Lewis is an inspiration. "If she can do it, I don't want to hear any excuses from anyone that they can't."
But Lewis said she's not done.
"I think big," she said. "My intentions are to get my master's. I'm going to take a little time off and come back."
Lewis admitted her accomplishment was a little difficult on her body.
"I pushed myself a little harder than my body wants to cooperate. But I will go back to school eventually," she said. "It beats shuffleboard."
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