HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Graduation ceremonies are happening this weekend at colleges across the country and for one Huntsville woman getting her degree, the walk across the stage to get her diploma is decades in the making.
Something caught Pat Cassity's eye when she was flipping through an alumni magazine from the University of Alabama.
"I found an ad that said: Come back to Bama," she stated.
At the age of 87, it was finally her chance. She had enrolled at in the summer of 1947. A violinist, she was pursuing a bachelor's degree in music and spent long hours practicing.
"I went around the clock, not taking a summer off. I think it contributed to the stress," Cassity explained. "The classes were intense. We had two years of music theory. Then we went into composition, which was difficult to compose if you are not a composer and then we went into orchestration in preparation for a senior recital. I was fairly young and under some pressures that distracted me from my goal of graduating."
She decided to leave it all behind and moved to Alaska where she took a clerical job with the Air Force. She quickly realized she made a poor choice and re-organized her life around the things she had rebelled against.
She found a great Southern Baptist church in downtown Anchorage and started playing in the Anchorage Symphony. Next, work took her to Mobile and she played in the Mobile Symphony, New Orleans Symphony, and Pensacola Symphony. There, she met her husband and they moved to Huntsville in 1961 to continue their careers with civil service at Redstone Arsenal.
Cassity always wanted to finish her degree, but with the constraints of a growing family, a traveling husband and her successful career, it wasn't feasible.
"I put it away. My husband encouraged me to finish my degree. In fact, he said he could get some help taking care of the children and for me to see what it would take for me to finish but I really never did that. I didn't feel that it was in the best interest of my family," she said.
After her husband, Bernard, passed away last year, she decided to see if there were things she could do that had meaning and value to her. When she got the alumni magazine with the interesting advertisement, she called the university to find out more.
She learned about the Back to Bama program, a distance learning program in UA's College of Continuing Studies, and discovered she was eligible to receive an interdisciplinary studies degree through the College of Human and Environmental Sciences.
On Friday, she graduated, surrounded by family members.
"I had actually completed all of the necessary coursework and I didn't even know," she revealed. "All that was left to do was re-enter the college of arts and sciences so that I could transfer to the new college that would be granting the degree."
She hopes her journey will inspire others to achieve their lifelong goals and dreams.
"It was a joyful experience. I couldn't believe that it was over and that I was actually going to graduate and get my bachelor's degree," she added. "I hope that former Alabama students will see this and be encouraged to look into how it might happen for them. It's closure after a goal I set in 1947 and it took 70 years to reach that goal."
The University of Alabama has more than 5,700 graduates who will participate in five different ceremonies over the weekend.
It was a very special moment for Pat Cassity and she thanked those who helped her along the way.
"A lot of people have worked to make this happen and I'm very grateful for the support the university has given me through this program. Everyone I was in contact with was an enabler. They worked to help me reach this point and I'm just so excited that others might have the same experience," she said.
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