97-year-old Margaret Thome Bekema looks at her high school letter as Catholic Central High School principal Greg Deja, left, and Director of Advancement Beth Banta fix her cap after her honorary graduation at Stonebridge Manor in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Oct. 29, 2015.
Emily Rose Bennett—The Grand Rapids Press/AP
October 31, 2015 10:23 AM EDT

A 97-year-old woman on Thursday finally received her high school diploma, 79 years after she was supposed to graduate.

Margaret Thome Bekema, who would have walked with the Catholic Central High School class of 1936 in Grand Rapids, Mich., had to drop out in her junior year to care for her cancer-afflicted mother. She later did clerical work for the armed forces and served as a preschool teacher.

Over the summer, her family contacted the school and shared her story. Upon receiving the honorary diploma at Yorkshire and Stonebridge Manor senior community, she said, tearing up, “I don’t know how to express my thanks… I’m sorry. I’m just plain chicken.”

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