By Jonathan J. Higuera
It took a little longer than expected but Kathleen Kelly reached her goal of getting a college degree this summer.
The 78-year old mother of six starting taking classes at Scottsdale Community College in 2011 and persisted until she had degree in hand with her last class this summer. As a full-time legal assistant and office manager for a one-person law firm here in Scottsdale, she made time to take one or two classes a semester until she finally reached the finish line.
Along the way, she lost her mom, who passed away in 2014 at age 94. She also didn’t let some advisement slip ups keep her from gettng the degree, although it led to retaking a couple of classes.
When she passed her final exam July 22, the journey was complete – she earned her Associate of General Education. She focused on Women’s Studies and Political Science in her coursework.
“It gives you a purpose and keeps your brain expanding,” said Kelly of her academic pursuits. “It also helps your critical thinking and makes you not so easily influenced.”
She wishes her mother were still alive to see her get the degree but she can tell her children – now ranging in age from 45 to 55 and her seven grandchildren – that their mom and grandmother is a college graduate.
“She was persistent and didn’t give up,” noted SCC Advisor Andrea Khalife. “Any hiccup that came up she was willing to work through. She was very open and wanted to get it done.”
Kelly’s higher education foray came after a full life before even moving to Arizona. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in nearby Lakewood, Ohio, she got married at age 20 and moved to Bedminster, N.J., with her then husband. The couple had six children – five girls and one boy. When she and her husband at the time divorced in the late ‘80s, Kelly asked her mom if she wanted to move to Arizona.
“I got up one morning and looked at all the snow and decided ‘I don’t want to shovel it anymore,’ ” she recalled.
She and her mother chose to live in Fountain Hills, where she still lives today. “It was the most beautiful area of all the ones we looked at when we got here,” she said.
Kelly says her interest in Women’s Studies started with her involvement trying to get the Equal Rights Amendment added to the U.S. Constitution in the mid-1990s. Although it is still not part of the U.S. Constitution, her efforts to get it passed fomented her passion for women’s rights and equality.
She also got involved in a national organization called Business and Professional Women in 1996. She went from local president to state president to being a national legislative committee member and chairing the National Equal Rights Amendment Task Force.
“I met so many inspiring women in the women’s movement,” she said.
Now she’s the one inspiring others to truly make learning a lifelong endeavor.