Great-grandmother earns master’s degree at 89

Joan Donovan is a recent college graduate with a Master of Arts in English and creative writing. She is also a breast cancer survivor, a military spouse and a great-grandmother.

At age 89, Donovan is Southern New Hampshire University’s (SNHU) eldest 2022 graduate.

Donovan could not attend the graduation ceremony in person, so the school brought the graduation to her. She accepted her framed diploma wearing a cap and gown outside her Florida home surrounded by family.

“I am just thrilled,” Donovan told SNHU, which posted her photo on Facebook. “I am honored. I’m overwhelmed, and your kindness means a lot.”

The SNHU Alumni group shared the news of the surprise celebration on Facebook.

“Joan Donovan ’22 was unable to attend fall commencement, so SNHU brought the celebrations to her home in Florida with a surprise diploma delivery,” the group wrote in a post sharing an article about her new degree.

When she was young, Donovan’s mother called her “brilliant,” she told the university. And seemingly, with good reason. Donovan started first grade at age 4 and graduated high school by 16. The family couldn’t afford college, but she was able to take some post-graduate classes for free at her high school.

Donovan always wanted a formal education, but marriage, babies and a busy life delayed things a bit. But she never gave up on her dream.

“I’m a goal-seeker,” she told SNHU. “And it was a goal, and I reached it. It’s a dream come true, really.”

After her children were grown, Donovan earned an associate degree from a community college. As time passed, she decided she wanted to go further and completed her bachelor’s degree as well, at 84.

“Then I said, ‘why not keep going?'” Donovan told SNHU.

Her granddaughter had attended SNHU, and the online program met her needs perfectly. Donovan’s next goal is to write her autobiography.

What is the graduate’s advice to others?

“I was afraid to try college,” she told SNHU. “So I say, ‘try things.’ If you fail, try it again … but just keep trying.”