50 years after her academic career was ruined, this 80-year-old finally graduates from college

Dollita Okine August 11, 2023
Graduation hats being tossed in air by fresh graduates. Image: wikimedia commons/AKS.9955

80-year-old Olivia Burnett received her degree from Ohio State University after having to leave the school 50 years earlier due to illness and other obligations.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, Burnett was only a few credits away from graduation in 1973 when she was forced to leave school due to significant surgery and the subsequent need to obtain a job to support her family.

She finally received her bachelor’s degree in child and youth studies from the College of Education and Human Ecology at the Schottenstein Center on Sunday. “I just wanted to finish what I started. I love being here at Ohio State University, I’m an eager learner—always have been,” she noted.

Burnett’s granddaughter, Falencia Miller, who graduated from Ohio State in 2011, contacted the College of Education and Human Ecology last year to inquire about the requirements for her grandmother to receive a degree. According to Ohio State spokesman Robin Chenoweth, college officials were able to assist Burnett in transferring credits from the other institutions she attended after leaving Ohio State in 1973, so she didn’t need to take any additional classes.

32-year-old Georgia resident Miller remarked that her grandmother always urged her grandchildren to be inquisitive. “She’s extremely intelligent and has a big heart,” Miller shared. “She can’t ignore ignorance. She’s always going to go out of her way to educate.”

Burnett claimed that because she has children of her own, she decided to major in child and youth studies. According to her, “When you end up being a single parent, you want to learn all you can about [your children]. You want to know how they grow; you want to know how they learn.”

Burnett relocated to California with her children after leaving Ohio State in 1973. In California, she worked as a social worker and pursued her education by enrolling in courses at American River College in Sacramento and Solano Community College in Fairfield. She presently resides on Columbus’ south side.

Today, she has five children, 11 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. Burnett also shared that she quilts, makes jewelry, and is writing a cookbook in her retirement. Burnett mentioned that her own mother was an Ohio State alumna as well.

“Back then, Black (women) usually did day-work, or worked in restaurants. And she had a health issue. And I talked her into coming to Ohio State University. And she got an associate degree in sociology. … That was the thing I was most proud of in my life: I pushed my mom to do that,” Burnett said.

The recent graduate asserted that education had played a significant role in the lives of both her and her family. She explained that they are people who want to be aware of and involved in the world. She added that during apartheid, she was part of the protesters outside the South African Embassy.

The 80-year-old gave this advice to students who were considering returning to school to complete outstanding degrees:

“Don’t give up. Dream, because if you look in the right direction, things will happen. (Education) will make you a much more grounded person. It’ll make you a much more interesting person.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 11, 2023


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