December 9, 2005

Positivity: 101-year-old to Receive Western Ky. U Diploma

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:13 am

An amazing story for someone who’s older than the school–and they’re bringing the diploma to her (HT Good News Blog):

101-year-old former teacher will receive WKU diploma

One of the students who’ll be graduating from Western Kentucky University next week was already in diapers before the school was founded a century ago.

Josephine Isbell Miller, 101, of Louisville, learned a few days ago that she will receive a baccalaureate degree from Western during the Class of 2005 winter commencement.

Miller enrolled at what then was Western Kentucky State Normal School in 1927 and began working her way through college during the Great Depression, alternating between her schooling and work. She left college in 1938, lacking only 12 credit hours for a teaching degree.

“It was just one of my mistakes in life,” she reflected. “My husband, Emmitt, had graduated in the summer, and I just didn’t want to go back by myself.”

Kentucky, in those days, granted teacher certificates to those who passed a state teaching examination. Miller passed the exam during her junior year in high school and began teaching in rural schools. She continued while at Western.

After college, she taught elementary grades in Muhlenberg and McLean counties into the early 1940s, until she started a family.

Bill Gatton, the businessman for whom the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business is named, said recently that Miller ranks among the two or three best teachers he ever had, from first grade in his native Muhlenberg County through UK, and later graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.

Miller mentioned in a recent newspaper article that she had always regretted not having gotten her degree from Western and that she had even inquired in 1999 whether she might be able to earn the needed credits for a degree by taking a correspondence course. But she gave up on the idea after learning that many of her existing credits from the late 1920s and early ’30s could no longer be counted.

When Luther Hughes, Western’s associate vice president for enrollment management, read her story, he brought it to the attention of Western’s provost and vice president of academic affairs, Barbara Burch. She shared it with Western president Gary Ransdell and the college of education faculty.

Their response was unanimous — Josephine Miller should receive her education degree. Not an honorary degree, but the real thing. She should be invited to join the nearly 1,000 other seniors who will be awarded their degrees during the winter commencement at Western’s Diddle Arena on Dec. 17.

“It was just the right thing to do, and I was pleased that the faculty responded in that manner — because academic integrity is very important,” Ransdell said. “After the article we heard from several people who knew her and dropped someone at Western a note saying, ‘She was the best teacher I ever had.’ What a tribute to a life well-lived, and what a role model.”

A hurried call was made to the university registrar’s office to delay the printing of commencement programs by one day until Miller could be reached by Sam Evans, dean of the college of education, and informed of Western’s decision that she would be included on the roll of graduates.

“I just can’t describe how I felt,” Miller said. “How could it be possible? It’s almost more than my wobbly, feeble mind can absorb. They wanted me to come down for the graduation, but I probably wouldn’t have lived to get down there and back, so I told them I just couldn’t.”

So Western officials, including Ransdell, Burch, Evans and others, are bringing Miller’s degree to a graduation ceremony just for her at Jeffersontown City Hall, up the street from her home, at 1 p.m. Dec. 14.

“We’re bringing the academic regalia — she’ll have the robe, the hat and the tassel — and we’ll create a miniceremony,” said Burch. “We’ll individualize it a little bit this time. It’s a little different from having 1,600 walking through.”

Miller’s daughter, Sarah Snyder of Louisville, a Western alumna, said it’s possible that a few of her mother’s former students — the oldest of whom might now be in their 80s — could show up for the graduation ceremony, along with a number of friends and family members.

“It just could not be a nicer Christmas present for her,” Snyder said. “I wished that something like this could happen, but I didn’t want to dream that it could happen.”

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