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A 90-year-old Illinois woman will complete some unfinished business on Sunday.

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Joyce DeFauw will get to wear a cap and gown and cross the stage at Northern Illinois University, where she enrolled in September 1951, WLS-TV reported.

DeFauw, who turned 90 on Nov. 7 and has 17 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren, will receive a bachelor’s degree in general studies, the university said in a news release.

She is among the oldest graduates at the school in DeKalb, Illinois, but DeFauw shrugs at the suggestion that she is an inspiration.


Joyce Kane was a freshman at Northern Illinois University in 1951.

“I never dreamed I’d be around at this time,” DeFauw said, according to NIU’s news release. “But here I am.

“I’ve learned that I can do things I never thought I could do, with the help of others. You can never quit learning.”

Joyce Kane DeFauw attended Northern Illinois but was diverted from her studies by romance.

“I went 3.5 years, and I quit,” DeFauw told WLS. “In the meantime, I met this gentleman who stole my heart and eye; we decided to get married.”

DeFauw, who lived in Geneseo, Illinois, married Don Freeman on June 18, 1955, according to The Daily Chronicle of DeKalb.

She quit school, and life got “kind of busy” for her and her first husband, the late Don Freeman Sr., according to NIU. But Freeman died at age 32 on Aug. 31, 1958. The couple had three children during their first three years of marriage.

Joyce’s second marriage was to Roy DeFauw on Feb. 23, 1963, in Rock Island, Illinois, according to The Rock Island Argus. They would have six children, including two sets of twins, NIU’s news release stated.

A college diploma seemed like a pipe dream.

“I was just busy with family from ‘55 when I got married until 2019,” DeFauw told WLS.

Roy DeFauw died on April 2, 1999. Twenty years later, Joyce DeFauw decided to earn her college degree. She finished her courses from her retirement home on the first computer she ever owned, a gift from her family, according to NIU.

NIU President Lisa Freeman said DeFauw was an “inspiration” to others.

“Joyce DeFauw is an inspiration, a trailblazer and now an Northern Illinois University college graduate,” Freeman said in a statement to “Good Morning America” on Thursday. “She has beautifully shown that earning a degree is life-changing at any age and that it’s never too late to pursue new knowledge.”

On Sunday, DeFauw will finish what she started 71 years ago. Turning her tassel has not been a hassle. She believes in education — and to never give up.

“You can’t put a value on it, in my opinion,” DeFauw told NIU. “Just don’t give up. I mean if you have the opportunity, take that opportunity, and you never know. A lot of us get sidetracked or whatever, but go back. Don’t give up.”

Information from and was used in compiling this report.