Never too late for learning
Alumna was determined to persevere
Feb. 13, 2023
WHEN SHE GRADUATED from CSU Global, Mary Kay McCarty followed the advice of professors and posted her resume on a popular employment website. Soon, she had recruitment inquiries about jobs in finance, insurance, personnel – even mattress promotions.
But McCarty – at age 81 – passed on the opportunities.
She had already achieved her goal: In 2021, McCarty graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in applied social sciences. She completed her degree more than 60 years after first enrolling in college – after running a business with her husband, working for a chamber of commerce, and raising a family that includes five children, 10 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
So far, McCarty is the only great-grandmother to graduate from CSU Global. Her persistence led to her selection as student speaker at the online university’s Spring 2022 commencement ceremony.
“It was quite a challenge doing all my classes online at my age. But I’ve always said that challenges present new opportunities, so I was determined to persevere,” McCarty told the crowd during her graduation address. “The legacy I want to leave with everyone is to keep the faith, be resilient with what life brings to you, and never stop learning. You’re never too old to learn something new.”
McCarty lives in Metro Denver but grew up in a small town in Kansas. In 1959, she started classes at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, where she studied to become a schoolteacher and met her future husband, Larry. During her junior year, McCarty left college to help care for her mother, who was dying of cancer.
Before long, she was married and starting a family. The McCartys settled in Metro Denver and started a heating and air conditioning business, which Mary Kay helped her husband run for more than 20 years. In 1992, McCarty switched jobs and started selling memberships for South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce; she spent another two decades with the chamber. “I had always planned to go back to college, but it just wasn’t possible,” she recalled. “I kind of put the idea on the shelf.”
Then, McCarty’s husband developed a long-term illness, prompting her to leave work to support him. Soon, she sought something else to enrich her life – a distraction from caregiving. McCarty decided to complete her college degree. All of her children and most of her grandchildren had earned their degrees and were working in professions ranging from atmospheric science to law.
“I wanted to finish what I had started,” McCarty said. “I thought, ‘I can’t be the only one in the family without a college education.’ That was a big motivator for me because education is very important in our family.”
McCarty knew she needed the flexibility of online learning. She landed on CSU Global, in part because the university accepted most of the college credits she had earned years earlier; she picked her major, applied social sciences, because it aligned well with her previous learning. McCarty graduated in 2021, four years after starting classes with CSU Global.
“I loved every minute of it,” she said. “It gave me a lot of confidence to know I was able to do this. I’ve never been one to give up, but I learned that, even at age 80, I still have that passion and drive for learning and achieving.”
Now, McCarty is contemplating a master’s degree. “I’m missing the classes and the writing,” she said with a laugh.
Photo at top: Mary Kay McCarty at her home in Denver. / Photo: Mary Neiberg.