• Family Focus: 93-year-old supporting students staying in school

    By: Natalie Pasquarella


    CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. - A 93-year-old woman is helping students in Catawba County understand the importance of staying in school.

    She received a high school diploma more than 75 years after dropping out of school.

    "Times was really hard, we didn't have any money," Mary Louise Harris said.

    At 93, Harris is eager to share some life lessons with Discovery High School students in Newton.

    "When I found out it might help these children, I was all for it," she said.

    She's talking about her own educational journey that was cut short.

    She was forced to drop out of high school back in 1936, during the Great Depression.

    "And my mother came to me and says 'I can't make enough money to keep things going,' she said, 'I'm going to have to take you out of school,'" Harris said.

    Harris said she was devastated.

    "I didn't want to quit school and my momma told me I had to come out of school, and then to top it all off, I had to give my class ring back," she said.

    More than 75 years later, she's seeing her dream come true.

    "I just think it's wonderful," she said.

    This month, Newton-Conover Schools awarded her an honorary diploma after her family reached out with the idea. As for that class ring she had to give back, her granddaughter ordered her a class pendant.

    "That was just heartbreaking that she had to give that up, it was just heartbreaking. And I can't imagine at 14, being pulled out of school at 14 and having to work," her granddaughter said.

    Harris finally gets to hold her diploma with pride in front of students who appreciate the message:

    "I thought it was a wonderful inspiration for her to come," said student Luiz Ramirez.

    'I think everybody takes it for granted, and that's something she didn't do. I mean she really, she had to give up something she really wanted," said student Danielle Catena.

    Harris' goal was to one day become a teacher, so now, she's getting that wish fulfilled as well.

    Harris turns 94 in December and said she's already received the only gift she ever wanted -- her honorary diploma.

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