It’s never too late to graduate — Palo Altan earns college degree at age 91

Rosemary Finnerty holds one of her awards. Post photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto resident Rosemary Finnerty was supposed to walk across a stage Saturday as the oldest graduate of Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.

The commencement ceremony was canceled because of COVID-19, but 91-year-old Finnerty still got her diploma. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor’s of science in intensive human services and received the school’s “Inspirational Academic Award.”

Finnerty said had wanted to attend college since she was very young. She was born in New Jersey during the Great Depression and said her mother couldn’t afford to send her to college. Out of her eight siblings, she is the only one who got a degree.

School representatives, including her academic advisor Therese Madden came by her house on Wednesday wearing masks to deliver her diploma and give her a bouquet of roses. Finnerty’s family members from the East Coast called in via video to watch Finnerty receive her awards.

She connected with faculty

“She’s made a connection with every instructor that has ever had her,” said Madden. “She’s such an engaged student.”

Madden taught Finnerty’s senior seminar where students have to complete a project. Madden said Finnerty made educational sessions at her parish accessible to homebound people by bringing them video recordings. She said Finnerty is always eager to help others. Even though her age puts her at risk for COVID-19, Madden said Finnerty’s first concern when the pandemic began was how she could help.

During her working years, Finnerty was an executive secretary at Colgate-Palmolive in New York. She said the company paid for her to receive an Associate’s Degree.

In 1983 she traveled to California to visit a friend and decided to stay.

She said she had to make regular trips back to the East Coast to help care for her sisters until they passed away in 2012 and 2014.

She started at Notre Dame de Namur University in 2015.

“I decided to go back because I wanted to learn and I had more time to do it,” she said.

Finnerty said after leaving New York she remained friends with her former boss,  former Colgate CEO Reuben Mark. Finnerty said when she went back to school, Mark paid her tuition out of his own pocket.

Finnerty said she didn’t plan on getting a degree when she enrolled and credited Madden with encouraging her to graduate.

Ralph Barsi, who taught four of Finnerty’s classes including marketing for nonprofits, said she was a dedicated student. Barsi said she never missed a class or assignment and did well on her final exams. He said she was a “real hoot” in class because she had great stories about working for Colgate in the 40s and 50s. He said she gave out toothpaste and soap as gifts for her classmates.

“Other students I had were not even born when she was working,” he said.

1 Comment

  1. What a wonderful example of a woman who is not afraid of moving forward no matter what the age. Her story may encourage other women who did not have the chance to get a college degree and succeeded in spite of age. Congratulations to such a wonderful example of courage.

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