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University News

GCU Awards Bachelor’s Degree to 90-Year-Old Marion Thomas

Marion Thomas and her family on Zoom

Marion Thomas turned 90 years old on December 7—an amazing achievement in itself. But with Mom, or “Granya,” in a skilled nursing facility and rising COVID-19 numbers, her family planned a virtual celebration for Sunday, December 6, with a very special surprise—a long-awaited degree from her alma mater, Georgian Court University.

Marion Thomas as a student at Lake House
Mrs. Thomas as a Georgian Court student at Lake House

A Long Time Coming

In 1998, Mrs. Thomas and her husband, John, were living in Toms River, New Jersey, where they had retired after living in Bergen County. And after a lifetime of encouraging her 6 children and 18 grandchildren to pursue a college degree, Mrs. Thomas began her freshman year at Georgian Court College (now University) at the age of 67. Her grandchildren, many of whom were in school at the same time, even offered her college advice.

She started out full time, and then moved to part time, earning 113 credits over the next decade, until her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She left school to devote herself to caring for her beloved husband, who passed away in 2012.

“Once my dad got ill, she really just focused on him,” said Ellen Thomas Wilson, one of her three daughters, noting that she attended seminars on the disease to learn as much as she could.

Mrs. Thomas has been living at the Hackensack Meridian Rehabilitation Center in Brick for five years, “accepting her health challenges with grace and dignity,” according to Mrs. Wilson. She also maintains her brilliant Irish wit and red hair!

A Birthday Degree

During the virtual celebration, President Joseph R. Marbach, Ph.D.; Provost Janice Warner, Ph.D.; and Tara Strickland from the Office of Marketing and Communications joined the joyous Zoom celebration to announce that based on Mrs. Thomas’s long career in supporting her parish as well as in business, the university had awarded her the 7 credits she needed to meet degree requirements. Provost Warner presented her to President Marbach as a candidate for a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, and Dr. Marbach conferred the degree upon her, making Mrs. Thomas a member of the GCU Class of 2020.

Marion Thomas raises a glass of wine
Cheers to Mrs. Thomas, whom we believe to be the oldest graduate in Georgian Court history.

“Each of our Mercy core values can only be fulfilled by being in relation to others,” President Marbach told Mrs. Thomas. ”And from everything I have heard, this is exactly what you have done throughout your life, with your dedication to your faith, your family, and your community.”

Mrs. Thomas’s reaction to the news?

“It’s about time!”

Mrs. Thomas has been invited to participate in the May 2021 Commencement Ceremony along with her fellow December graduates, who officially receive their diplomas in January 2021. Georgian Court looks forward to celebrating with all graduates in person this spring.

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,200 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 14 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by Money.com and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at HazletGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.

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