99-year-old Belfast woman gets diploma after 75 years

Posted May 23, 2014, at 3:43 p.m.
Jessie Jones-White poses with her certificate of completion for her degrees in account bookkeeping and stenography from 1939 (left) and her diploma from Beal College (right), replicating the diploma she would have received 75 years ago if she had the money.
Danielle Walczak | BDN
Jessie Jones-White poses with her certificate of completion for her degrees in account bookkeeping and stenography from 1939 (left) and her diploma from Beal College (right), replicating the diploma she would have received 75 years ago if she had the money.
Jessie Jones-White, 99, accompanied by her son Bill White, accepts her diploma from Beal College president, Allen Stehle. &quotThis is a lot more fun than it would have been 75 years ago," said Jones-White on receiving her diploma during a reception Friday.
Danielle Walczak | BDN
Jessie Jones-White, 99, accompanied by her son Bill White, accepts her diploma from Beal College president, Allen Stehle. "This is a lot more fun than it would have been 75 years ago," said Jones-White on receiving her diploma during a reception Friday.

BANGOR, Maine — In 1939, Jessie Jones-White walked on crutches from Union Street to Beal College on Central Street every day. Despite foot surgery to combat polio, which she suffered when she was 8 months old, nothing could stand between Jones-White and her education.

Yet when it was time for Jones to graduate with a degree in account bookkeeping and stenography, $5 separated her from the diploma she wouldn’t receive until 75 years later.

The 99-year-old woman finally was awarded her diploma Friday at a small ceremony at Beal College, a career and associate degree school founded in 1891.

“I have the Jones-White stubbornness — hang on like a bulldog if I want something,” said the Belfast resident.

Beal University President Allen Stehle presented Jones-White with a diploma, gift, cap and gown.

“It just completes my life, I think. It was something I missed, not having a diploma,” said Jones-White.

Self-education has been the theme of her life. She completed first and second grade in one year — skipping third grade entirely. Today, she sews her own clothing, cooks her own meals and spends most of her days learning by researching healthy living on the Internet. The 99-year-old said she takes no prescription medications and tries to “stay away from hospitals and doctors.”

“I try to learn something new every day, even if it’s just a word or a way of doing something,” she said.

About three months ago, Dona Gilbert, a teacher from Winterport, contacted Stehle about the possibility of getting Jones-White a diploma.

“This woman has done so much in her life, she needs that completion,” said Gilbert.

Instead, Stehle said he decided to throw a party.

“She’s able to close the circle on her educational pursuits. It’s like winning a race and not getting the trophy,” said Stehle, who also believes Jones-White’s story can help students today.

“Knowing she waited 75 years sends a strong message to people to rededicate themselves [to their education] and think along the same lines,” said Stehle.

Gilbert connected with Jones-White through Jones-White’s brother, who met Gilbert’s father at a nursing home in Colorado.

“It really does mean something to have an education,” said Gilbert of Jones-White’s story, “It’s not just about getting jobs. It’s about, inside, knowing you can accomplish something,” she said.

Jones-White sees mental and physical health as a way to a happy life, “greet people with a smile even if you don’t feel like it, it makes it that much better,” said Jones-White.

“She sets a good moral example, just being kind to people,” said Jones-White’s son, Bill White, of Belfast.

Jones-White’s connection with Beal College began when her uncle Fred left $500 to send her to school. Seventy-five years later, with diploma in hand, Jones-White said she would still like to go to school every day, if she had the strength.

“If you have a dream, follow it. Don’t ever give up, even if it seems impossible,” said Jones-White.

 

SEE COMMENTS →

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business

Similar Articles

More in Education