Nearly eight decades after Margaret Thome Bekema was forced to quit high school, she tearfully accepts the honorary diploma from Catholic Central High.
Emotions run high when Margaret talks about the circumstances surrounding her decision to drop out of school, ultimately preventing her from graduating with her fellow classmates in the spring of 1936.
Her father had asked her to do so. Her mother was sick with cancer, and he needed help caring for her younger siblings while he worked. She ended up leaving her junior year. Margaret had three younger siblings who desperately needed her care.
"I had to quit school to take over the family," said Bekema, who said she cooked, cleaned and made all their clothes. "It was hard, you have no idea how hard that was. I loved high school and I had lots of friends."
Beaming with pride, she wore her graduation cap and gold honor cords in front of her family and friends. The principal of the high school, Greg Deja, presented her with the honors at the Yorkshire and Stoneridge Manor senior community.
"Her life has been one of sacrifice and service," said Deja. "It has been so encouraging and inspiring for our community because her choices represent all the core values that we teach our students."
One of her children and a fellow Central Catholic graduate, Gerri Smith, said that her mother cared for her grandmother until she passed away. She had regretted not graduating and was elated to finally get the opportunity.
"She is the type of person that whatever life hands her, she just deals with it very graciously," said Smith. "She does what has to be done and she doesn't complain about it or make a big deal about it, she just does it."
Margaret is now a widow, mother of two, grandmother of four, and great-grandmother to one. She fondly remembers her long life, and is happy to close this chapter.
A relative, Sister Maureen Geary, contacted the school earlier this year, after thinking about it for a while and knowing it would mean the world to Margaret.
"She has been so self-giving all her life," said Geary, who said Margaret cared for her when she was a baby for about six weeks while her mother was ill.
Margaret loved children and people and says that faith was the central part of her life.
"I thank you from the bottom of my heart,'' said a tearful Margaret, after receiving the diploma from Catholic Central Principal Greg Deja at a ceremony attended by the woman's family and friends at the Yorkshire and Stoneridge Manor senior community.
See Margaret's beautiful and emotional acceptance of her diploma below.
Congratulations Mrs. Bekema, you deserve all the honor in the world.
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