Class of 2012: 84-Year-Old, Daughter to Receive Master’s Degrees Together

April 23, 2012 / by / 13 Comments


By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau

Leola Mayes sat down for dinner with her daughter Beverly and made a promise:

“I tell you what,” Leola said, “if you go to college and get an education, I’ll go with you.”

That was 10 years ago, and Leola was 74 at the time.

 “When my mom told me that, I was like, ‘OK, if my mom can do this at her age, then I can definitely do this,’” Beverly said. 

Leola Mayes: "I wanted to inspire my daughter to go to college, letting her know that it is never too late for knowledge."

Fast-forward to 2012. On May 3, that school-girl partnership will bring the Mayes to GCU, where 84-year-old Leola and 47-year-old Beverly will graduate with master’s degrees in criminal justice.

“Everybody wants their children to do better than they do,” said Leola, a mother of nine children, all of whom have been to college. “I wanted Beverly to know that she needed to enhance her future by receiving a college degree. I wanted to inspire my daughter to go to college, letting her know that it is never too late for knowledge.”

Taking the plunge

Beverly, the youngest of the family, was married and working as a paralegal secretary when her mom made the college pledge. Given the academic and professional successes of her older siblings, Beverly feared failure trying to follow in their very big footsteps.

But with her mom’s encouragement and inspiration, the two enrolled at Wayne County Community College in Detroit, where they each earned associate’s degrees with honors. From there, they enrolled at Madonna University in Livonia, Mich., and studied criminal justice together.

“After that, Mom said, ‘We’re not done yet,’” Beverly said, so the two Livonia residents went looking for a school where they could take online classes and further their education.

“I came across Grand Canyon University and went to talk to a counselor,” Beverly said. “It was just the way they took the time to talk to me, the patience, and just guiding me all the way through. I know I made the right choice. … I fell in love with GCU, from the counselors to the instructors to financial aid, everyone was great.”

The Mayes aren’t required to make the trip to Phoenix and go through graduation ceremonies in order to receive their diplomas. But they wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“With the grace of God, who has made it all possible for both of us, (we’re) super excited,” Leola said. “For my baby to come this far …”

There have been difficulties that could have derailed their plans along the way. Leola has had issues with lung cancer, arthritis and diabetes. Beverly was in a car accident in 2010 that caused bleeding on her brain and several slipped discs in her back and neck. But, as Leola said, “God had our back.”

“I was determined not to give up on school, no matter what,” Beverly said. “For us to get to this day, it’s an honor just to be there with my mom.”

An inspiration to herself

Leola’s initial goal to get her daughter into college has had other benefits.

Beverly Mayes: "For us to get to this day, it's an honor just to be there with my mom."

She grew up during a period in which educational opportunities were not prevalent for African-Americans, so getting that opportunity, even at 84, is not taken lightly.

“She grew up in the South. She’s told me stories about how hard it was for her and her siblings to go to school,” Beverly said. “It means a lot to her. Some of the stories she tells me, I can see her tear up because there were a lot of things she couldn’t do.”

For her part, Leola said going to school is a way to keep her mind sharp. Beyond that, she sees her own education as a way to help children in her community.

“There are so many young people today getting in so much trouble, and I would like to help some of them. It gives me something to do.”

Leola volunteers in schools in Livonia and is known simply as “Grandma” in her neighborhood, always offering a helping hand to any child in need.

“My mom is just a loving, caring person,” Beverly said. “I remember at a young age people calling her ‘The Little Old Lady of Tender Shoe.’ She doesn’t see color. No matter what nationality someone was, she’d bring them in, buy them a coat if they needed one, make them a stew. It’s just her loving spirit.

“And she takes the information and the knowledge (from her education) and takes it back to schools, helping young adolescents. She tells them if you do this and this, this is what’s going to happen to you with the law. She tries her best to keep them out of trouble.”

They’re not done yet

Master’s degrees are not the end of the educational road for the Mayes.

Beverly is off to Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich., where she hopes to graduate in 3½ years and one day become a judge.

“I’m fascinated with DNA,” Beverly said. “I know there are a lot of innocent people in jail. I just want to do something to help, to make a difference.”

And Leola? If you can believe it, she’s re-enrolling at GCU to work on a second master’s degree in law enforcement.

“If I can do it, anyone can,” Leola said. “If I can save one life, then my job is done. Education is the key to life, and I don’t want one child left behind.”

Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or [email protected].

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13 Responses
  1. Linda Chapman

    Congratulations to these two young ladies. I am 63 years old and I just graduated from Grand canyon University on March 25 with a Bachelor ‘s Degree in Business Administration. I felt like giving up so many times, but I had a goal and was determined to reach that goal. After retirement, I decided to do something for myself.

    Apr.23.2012 at 5:37 pm
  2. Angelique White

    I just love that story it meant alot to me. Sometimes I wish that my mom and my dad went to college instead of high school. I am the second oldest of 10 sisters and 1 of my sisters went to college to be a nurse and thats what she’s doing. And i’m going to college to become an Early Childhood Development teacher. I’m getting my assisociates degree for it. I also love how her daughter said that they wasn’t done yet and that they were still going back to get more and more degrees to further their education.

    Apr.24.2012 at 3:27 pm
  3. Tacqua Clemon

    God’s grace is sufficient.

    Apr.24.2012 at 8:25 pm
  4. Mary Morton

    Hey BFF!! Congradulations! I want you to know how proud of you I am. Tell Mom I am really proud of her as well. You two are a great team! Keep up the good work. Later–Mary

    Apr.24.2012 at 8:48 pm
  5. Joy Weston

    My dear BFF and Mom Mayes :)

    Congratulations to you both. It is a beautiful accomplishment! It was an honor to have had both of you as classmates. What lovely role models you are for people who wanted to give up or for people who never started but always wanted to do so.

    “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” Both of you are living testimonies and I am honored.

    Much blessings,


    Apr.25.2012 at 9:37 pm
  6. Bonita T. Baldwin

    This was the inspiration I needed!! Here is a true testament that I am NEVER to old to learn, and that God can and will use anyone at any age as long as they are willing to be used by Him. Thank you for sharing your incredible journey with us. I am 47yrs old and will be graduating with you on next Thursday. I was just saying the other day that I didn’t think I was going for my Master’s degree, however you have made me think twice about that! God bless you and looking forward to meeting you next week

    Apr.26.2012 at 6:25 am
  7. Annette

    Wow that is just great. What a blessing to both of you….Big congratulations to both of you.

    Apr.26.2012 at 8:22 pm
  8. Mandy

    This is one of the best stories I have read all year. It makes me want to cry. It is so great to see this kind of love in the world.

    Apr.27.2012 at 11:23 pm
  9. Gwendolyn H Wallace

    This story rises my hopes!

    Going first for my BS in Legal, the further I got the less I felt I
    could pass the “BAR”.

    I real enjoy Legal/Law, but even the quiz’s would throw me off, grade

    Now at GCU getting my degree in Teaching, is a better choice I feel.

    Even at my age of 61! I feel like the 2 beautiful women here, I can do
    it and help others!

    Congradulations to both of you ladies!

    I have found out one very important thing. Choice is schools can make
    or break your dream of a special career.

    Apr.29.2012 at 6:10 pm
  10. Marie Dunbar

    My hat is off to Ms.Leola and Ms.Mayes!The two of you are an inspiration to anyone thinking about furthering their education. I started late also, completed by Bachelors and a credential in Counseling and now I am definitely going to complete my Master’s degree. Thank you!!

    May.15.2012 at 4:20 pm
  11. Harriett

    All I can say what an inspiration both of these ladies are!

    May.22.2012 at 1:51 pm
  12. Juanita Pryce

    I am sixty-eight and looking forward to enrolling at GCU. I will be seeking a Master’s in Professional Alcohol % Drug Counseling. I am in the process of taking the state exam to be licensed and certified.

    I have always injoyed learning and have a insatiable desire for knowledge. I give God the glory for keeping my mind active and providing me with a good memory. Along with the courage and determination to continue to be persistence.

    Higher education is always within our reach. When we abtain it, it is the one thing that can not be taken away from us. Education is qualified by God.

    May.25.2012 at 3:59 pm
  13. Patricia Ann Faison

    Hello Ladies,

    You have truly inspired me (smile). I just graduated from GCU in May with a Master Degree in Professional Counseling and plan to pursue a Doctorate Degree soon. I am sixty one years old, and have been blessed with 16 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, three children and a wonderful and supportive husband. Within the last two years I had two TIA’s, colostomy and a right hip replacement and is scheduled to have surgery this week. With the support from the wonderful staff of GCU, family support and GOD, I was blessed to graduate with a 3.97 GPA. I thank God for all of his Grace and Mercy and one day pray to become an advocate for the homeless population and start a community non-profit organization. My two daughters whom are 33 and 43 are also pursuing a Bachelors degree, one in Christian Counseling and the other in Education. It is so true, “the apple does not fall too far from the tree” (smile). Congratulations to you and your daughter. God Bless!!!

    May.14.2013 at 12:29 pm
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