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

FIRST IN A SERIES

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. 

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.

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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Bible Verse

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