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.
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.
“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.