'Never too late': 93-year-old earns degree from GSU

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(Courtesy: Georgia State University)

When Joyce Lowenstein crossed the stage to receive her diploma, Georgia State Stadium was filled with applause and cheers.

Lowenstein is proof that good things come to those who keep working.

“I’m proud of my age,” she told GSU's Torie Robinette. “I’m 93, and I made it through seven years to get my degree at Georgia State.”

Lowenstein was the eldest participant in Georgia State's 104th commencement this month. Her degree was nearly 80 years in the making -- dating back to the early 1940s, when she attended three semesters at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

She withdrew from classes after her long-lost love and fiancé, who had been stationed abroad with the armed forces, returned. The two were reunited in New York.

Her marriage, children, and jobs then took over her life, but she was able to turn her passion for art into a career. And while she became a major player in the art scene in the Big Apple, she regretted not completing her degree.

“I didn’t want to be degreeless,” she said.

Lowenstein and her husband, Larry, moved to Atlanta in the '70s. He took a public relations job at Kennesaw State University, while she moved toward antiques and interior design. She traveled the world, buying hundreds of pieces for several showrooms while keeping up with the art world.

When her husband died in 2006, her priorities changed.

She eventually came across a GSU program that waives tuition for bachelor’s degree-seeking students older than 62. After more than seven decades, she prepared to walk back into the classroom.

“I was a nervous wreck,” she recalled of the night before classes began in 2012.

Her 1943 credits transferred, putting her one year closer to her goal. But unlike her younger co-eds, who were taking five or six classes a semester, she paced herself to two.

While she was initially intimidated, she found new confidence and determination in her fellow students: their youth, fashion, and lingo.

“I quit in 1943, and I wasn’t going to do it again,” she said.

Every challenge she met head-on. For help typing, she got help from her longtime assistant Barbara Domir, for algebra she got herself a math tutor, to haul her many heavy books she got a rolling suitcase. She also learned PowerPoint, taping class lectures, all-nighters, and even found her voice in the large lecture halls.

She quickly became part of the campus culture. And despite a few health scares, she made it to May 9.

She was pushed in her wheelchair onto the stage, and with the help of a cane, proudly stood and was greeted warmly as she walked across the stage and received her degree. Her cap sported this message: "Never too late. GSU '19."

Cheers filled the air. Possibly the loudest were her 17 family members, including her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

So what's next? More learning: Lowenstein plans to complete an online certification course in fine-art appraisal.