Fall 2015 Commencement Profile: Elizabeth Reilly

When Elizabeth “Betty” Reilly applied to work at a local library nine years ago at the age of 80, they told her she wasn’t qualified because she didn’t complete high school.


By kelsie-weekes | 12/11/2015

When Elizabeth “Betty” Reilly applied to work at a local library nine years ago at the age of 80, they told her she wasn’t qualified because she didn’t complete high school. Later that day she saw an ad for GED classes, and never looked back. On Thursday, Dec. 10 at 5 p.m., Reilly, now 89, will walk across the stage at Florida Atlantic University to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

Like many women of her generation, Reilly spent most of her life devoted to her family. She dropped out of high school at 19, married the love of her life, and raised five children. She and her husband moved to Florida in 1965, and both worked hard to make ends meet. Now widowed with adult children, Reilly has spent the last decade focusing on her own happiness.

“I have 12 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, but one thing I won’t do at my age is babysit,” she said. “The few remaining years I have are mine to enjoy doing what I love to do.”

That “love” is learning. After getting her GED, Reilly began working as a volunteer tutor at a local high school. When a teacher there suggested she go back to college, Reilly knew she wouldn’t be able to afford it since she lives on a fixed income.

“That’s when they told me about the Pell Grant,” she said. “I filled out the forms, went to the local community college and got accepted.”

In December 2011, Reilly graduated from Broward Community College with an associate’s degree. She laughed at the people who thought her college career was over.

“I said, ‘yeah right, I don’t want to line dance and play bingo the rest of my life, I’m too alive for that.’ I walked across the street to FAU to start work on my bachelor’s degree.”

Twice a week, Reilly took the bus from her home in Sunrise to FAU’s Davie campus. The faculty and staff there immediately fell in love with Reilly’s amazing stories, sense of humor, and overall zest for life.

“Betty is an indomitable spirit and a pleasure to have in class,” said Don Adams, Ph.D., a professor in FAU’s Department of English.  “She once told me that my classes in modern literature ‘dragged her from the shallow to the deep end of the pool’, a comment I will always remember. She will be missed when she graduates.”

Reilly’s pursuit of education is inspiring those around her to go back to school as well. She says she’s convinced more than 30 people to go back and get a degree.

“I’m so enthusiastic that I’m bubbling over,” she said.

Following her long-awaited walk across the stage, Reilly will be back in the classroom in January. Since she can’t afford a master’s degree, several of her professors have agreed to let her be a guest in their classes. She’s going to soak up as much knowledge as she can.

“When it comes to education, it’s never too late,” she said. “I’m a prime example, and I love it.”

-FAU-

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