It’s never too late to get a college diploma.
And 74-year-old Pat Ormond is living proof of this. She received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology 42 years after taking her first college class in 1978.
But the Ormond family had another graduate from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) that same day: Ormond’s 22-year-old granddaughter, Melody.
“I always knew that I was going to graduate from college,” said Melody Ormond. “I just never knew that my nana was also going to be there.”
Pat, who turns 75 this month, took her first college class at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta. After one semester, she dropped out to move to Chattanooga, Tennessee.
She spent the next several decades working as an accountant and raising a family, including Melody’s father. And while she did take an occasional class at UTC, she says her family continued to encourage her to go back to finish her degree, especially after she retired.
She relented when her granddaughter decided to transfer as a sophomore to study pyschology at UTC after a year at Berea College in Kentucky. They both enrolled at UTC with enough college credits to make graduating together a possibility.
For Pat and Melody, this also meant taking classes online during the pandemic.
“It’s definitely more difficult, and I prefer in-class,” Pat told CNN. “I really enjoyed the discussions and being able to interact with so many people from different backgrounds. Not having those people around made it harder.”
Before the pandemic, Pat and Melody didn’t have any classes together. Melody jokes that her grandmother preferred to take classes in the morning while she would often sleep in and take her’s in the afternoon. But they did occasionally bump into one another while on campus.
“One of her classes would end at the same time mine would,” Melody said. “I would see her and just scream and yell ‘nana!’ until I got her attention.”
Pat and Melody graduated on November 20 as part of UTC’s graduating 2020 class. Although their graduation ceremony was social distanced, meaning that no audience members were allowed, the alphabetical seating meant that they walked onstage one after the other.
The achievement has also made Pat somewhat of a celebrity.
“We are so proud to have graduates like Melody Ormond and her grandmother, Pat Ormond, in the UTC class of 2020,” Steven R. Angle, UTC Chancellor, told CNN. “Together, they personify the determination, commitment and love of lifelong learning we encourage in every UTC graduate.”
Pat hopes that she can be an example to other nontraditional college students who want to get their degrees.
“Learning never stops,” Pat said. “That’s something that my father instilled in me when I was younger. No matter what you do, learning never stops. Even if it’s auditing a few classes, there’s always that option.”
Pat isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon. She’s already working on another degree — a bachelor’s in history.
Meanwhile, her granddaughter, who is job hunting, is interested in getting a master’s in clinical psychology so she can become a counselor. But she says she’s in no rush. Her nana has taught her that she has plenty of time.