More than two years late, Penn State Altoona's oldest grad has her day

June 03, 2003

Altoona, Pa. -- At the age of 77, Mildred Hawkins Turner was awarded an associate in arts degree in letters, arts, and sciences with a 3.15 grade point average at the end of Fall 2000 to become the oldest graduate of Penn State Altoona. Her journey to reach that achievement was a remarkable one, as were the reasons for the delay of her opportunity to attend a commencement until the recent Spring 2003 ceremony.

After 22 years at Warnaco Corporation, Turner retired on May 1, 1990 at the age of 67. On May 4 she attended her son, Jack's, graduation from George Mason School of Law. During the celebration that followed his graduation, she met a woman who talked with her about the classes she was taking at a local community college. The woman urged Turner to consider enrolling at a college near her.

Turner had already decided that she was not going to sit around the house after her retirement. She contacted the Penn State Altoona Adult Center and learned that through the GO-60 program she could schedule courses tuition free on a space available basis. She enrolled in one course as a nondegree student for Summer Session 1990. As they say, the rest is history.

After completing 15 credits as a nondegree student with a 3.53 grade point average through Fall 1991, Turner decided to become a degree-seeking student in the letters, arts, and sciences program. She spent the next 10 years enrolling on a part-time basis until she officially graduated in Fall 2000. Turner said that she liked the humanities the best, particularly her literature classes. Ironically, Biology 055 (The Biology of Aging) was her last course to fulfill the graduation requirements.

Turner is happy to report that she is the third generation in her family to graduate from Penn State, although not quite in the logical order one might expect. Her son, Mack, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Penn State and currently serves as a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. Her granddaughter, Gretchen Williams Reigh, graduated from Penn State in Fall 2000. This is why she sees herself as the third generation of Penn State graduates in her family.

Her grandchildrens' high school and college graduation dates, and her brother's unexpected serious illness prevented Turner from participating in commencement ceremonies since Fall 2000. After checking with family members for the Spring 2003 high school or college graduation dates of her other grandchildren, she verified that her calendar was open for commencement at Penn State Altoona this spring. When she walked across the stage, she drew a standing ovation from the students, families, faculty and staff in attendance.

Turner is now scheduled for a Summer 2003 course to extend her educational journey.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009