The P.E.O. Record July-August 2022 (public)

SPECIAL | feature

Life-Long Learner Marilou Cassidy Graduates College at Age 81 by Candy Bennett, GY, Vancouver, Washington

Few women decide to return to school in their late 70s. Meet Marilou Cassidy, Chapter GY, Vancouver, Washington, who graduated from Washington State University Vancouver (WSUV) at age 81! Marilou’s journey to earn her bachelor’s degree spanned 63 years, beginning in 1959.

Two Chapter GY members particularly inspired Marilou when they returned to school. Candy Thompson completed her bachelor’s degree at WSUV, 30 years after beginning studies at University of Portland. Connie Kearney went back to earn a law degree 20 years after completing her first degree. Citing “History of American Women” as her favorite college course, now Marilou is a role model for other women. Marilou’s interest in photography and the arts eventually led her to enroll in a degree program at Marylhurst College but she never stayed in the program. “Something always came up,” she explained. When Marylhurst announced its closure in 2018, Marilou made the decision to finally complete her degree. Helpful staff spent hours digging through paper records in the back room to validate her credits. She said, “It took me months to get up the nerve to even call admissions. When I finally did, they were wonderful. They did not laugh at me at all!” She waited to tell her husband about her decision until she had received the acceptance letter in her hands. “He has been my most ardent supporter even though I think he might have been somewhat shocked at my news,” says Marilou. Marilou officially began her degree program at WSUV in fall 2019. Then COVID-19 hit and the world changed for everyone—especially college students. Classes moved from in-person to Zoom mid-way through spring 2020. They continued on Zoom through fall 2020 and spring 2021. Marilou learned online programs of Blackboard, Canvas and Zoom. Her college-aged grandchildren and fellow students helped her through the transition. The positive side of the Zoom classes was she could still take short trips with her husband to their beloved ranch and summer home while in school!

Eager for travel and adventure after high school, Marilou wanted most of all to become a stewardess. The airlines required two years of college, so she completed the requirement at Clark College in her home town of Vancouver. She officially joined “the friendly skies of United Airlines” in 1961. She says, “I loved every minute of the adventures of living in Chicago and Seattle and traveling across the United States.” While based in Seattle, Marilou met her

Marilou as a stewardess, 1961

future husband, Larry, and gave up her glamorous job to get married. In 1963, if you married, you could no longer be a stewardess. Years flew by and included a move back to Vancouver, the birth of three children and managing a busy household for many years. While juggling all these responsibilities, Marilou was always taking classes too: sewing, cooking, accounting, golf, photography. “I guess I have always been a student, although never really on the college degree path,” said Marilou. During her years at home full time, Marilou became a charter member of Chapter GY in 1980, expanding her friendship circle and leadership roles. She served in several offices, including president, and chaired the chapter committee for the P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education. She was always a strong advocate for supporting women returning to college.

Life changes are challenging to a student. Marilou’s determination has prevailed. In January 2021, she had a total knee replacement. In September, the beloved family yellow lab, Lucy, passed away at age 13. And throughout the return to classes, Marilou has been supporting her husband in his struggle with cancer.

Chapter GY helped Marilou celebrate her graduation


THE P.E.O. RECORD | July–August 2022

Women helping women reach for the stars

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