The “super senior” proves you’re never too old.

It may have taken her 71 years, but Joyce Viola DeFauw is officially a college graduate.

If you’d asked Joyce back in 1951 what her future held, she would have told you that she planned on finishing what she had just started — her university degree in home economics. The first one in her family to attend college, she wanted to make her dad proud.

But then, life happened. Or rather, someone happened.

After 3 and a half years of pursuing her post-secondary education, she fell in love. And fell out of college.

The Detour That Took 71 Years to Come Full Circle

At the same time as she was attending college, Joyce met “good-looking” Don Freeman Sr. at church. She knew her life would never be the same.

“I went to school for three and a half years but decided to leave after I met him,” DeFauw told CNN.

The couple married in 1955 and had three children together in three years before Don passed away in 1958.

Five years later, Joyce found love again and remarried. This time to her late second husband Roy DeFauw. They had 6 children, including 2 sets of twins.

Life was busy for the mom of nine and the years passed swiftly. She eventually became a grandmother of 17 and a great-grandmother of 24.

She’d lived a good life, however, she had one regret.

“I guess I mentioned I was upset that I didn’t finish school and my children encouraged me to go back,” Joyce said.

In August 2019, she re-enrolled in her alma mater, Northern Illinois University. Sixty-seven years and 11 months after she had first enrolled as a student. At the time, she was 86 years old.

The University Degree Seven Decades in the Making

This time, things were a little different. Instead of attending classes on campus and living in a house with 7 other “town girls,” Joyce attended them online from her room in a retirement home.

The journey wasn’t always easy. Joyce had to learn how to use a computer, having never owned one before, and she considered quitting — more than once.

“A lot of times I would have quit. I almost did,” she said.

However, she persevered. “There were just too many people who knew about it. I didn’t want to let them down. I quit once and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do it again.’”

And when a financial situation threatened to derail her journey, the university stepped up with a scholarship to help her reach the finish line.

Three years later, in December 2022, the 90-year-old great-grandmother walked across the stage to receive her Bachelor of General Studies diploma in a beautiful full-circle moment — 71 years in the making.

Joyce was dressed in her black gown and black cap, fittingly emblazoned with gold stars and the words, “Super Senior ’22.” It was a moment she’ll never forget.

“You can’t put a value on it, in my opinion,” she shared in the university’s press release. “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.”

Often in life, we veer off the path we thought we’d take and forge a new one. Some dreams are lost to make room for new ones. But sometimes, those dreams aren’t really lost at all, they’re just waiting.

And all it takes is a little patience, perseverance, and determination to make those dreams come true. Even if it takes a lifetime.