97-Year-Old Receives Diploma: Margaret Thome Bekema Tearfully Accepts High School Diploma After 80 Years

A 97-year-old Michigan woman finally received her high school diploma, 80 years after she was forced to drop out to help her family.

Last week, Margaret Thome Bekema received an honorary diploma from Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, approximately 160 miles northwest of Detroit. The school honored her as an alumna of 1936 with a Certificate of Membership to the school’s alumni association “The Pride.”

According to Fox News, Bekema dropped out of the Grand Rapids school when she was only 17-years-old to help care for her mother, Katherine, who had been diagnosed with cancer. When her mother passed away, Margaret had to take control of the household and care for her three younger siblings at the request of her father, Leo Thome, which left her no time to attend school.

Earlier this year, Sister Maureen Geary, the daughter of Bekema’s cousin Marian, reached out to the school and told them about her story. The school officials decided they need to make her dreams of receiving a high school diploma come true and held a ceremony at Yorkshire and Stonebridge Manor senior community in Walker, where Margaret currently resides, to present the diploma to her.

“She said her heart was broken when she dropped out and today was just a small part to lift that heart,” Catholic Central principal Greg Deja said. “After all of these years, representing all of the core values for which our school stands, we proudly recognize Margaret with an official honorary diploma.”

At 17, Margaret Thome Bekema was forced to drop out of high school to take care of her cancer-stricken mother and … https://t.co/uW5UXhX9DK

— Ragnarok Connection (@xg2d1d4_2) November 1, 2015

Through tears, Margaret donned a mortarboard and accepted her diploma in front of her family and friends, fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming a high school graduate.

“How can I express myself?” Bekema said. “I don’t know how to express my thanks.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just plain chicken,” she continued, becoming more emotional.

When Bekema was finally able to regain her composure, she thanked the school officials for her honorary diploma.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “I had to quit school to take over the family. It was hard, you have no idea how hard that was. I loved high school and I had lots of friends.”

“Her life has been one of sacrifice and service,” said Deja. “It has been so encouraging and inspiring for our community because her choices represent all the core values that we teach our students.”

Gerri Smith, one of Margaret’s two children and a graduate of Catholic Central High School, said she cared for her grandmother until the day she died and had always regretted not being able to graduate with the class of 1936, according to Michigan Live.

“She is the type of person that whatever life hands her, she just deals with it very graciously,” said Smith. “She does what has to be done and she doesn’t complain about it or make a big deal about it, she just does it.”

Despite dropping out of high school during her junior year, Margaret went on to do clerical work for the armed forces and later became a preschool teacher at Grace Episcopal Church for 17 years.

“The director of the school was an angel, and we had some little pistols,” said Bekema.

Bekema, now a widow, has two children, four grandchildren, and one great-grandson.

[Image via Shutterstock]