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The Last Grad

Brand New Alumna Heads Family of George Mason Alumni

By Robin Herron

It's taken Diane Williams 38 years to get her undergraduate degree, so when it finally happened, she went all out. She ordered a diploma frame, a gown, a yearbook, a George Mason stein, and a graduation video. She had her senior class picture taken and bought Commencement invitations. She invited family and friends from California, Michigan, and Germany, and helped plan her graduation party. She even pronounced herself ready to be active in the Alumni Association.

For the crowning touch, Williams's four children, three of whom also graduated from George Mason, bought their mom a class ring and hosted her graduation party. Says son Matt, B.A. '92, "She did all that for us, and now we're doing it for her."

The 63-year-old grandmother first enrolled at the University of Missouri in 1963. But marriage, raising children, and moving prevented her from continuing her education. It wasn't until 15 years later that she was able to start taking classes at Northern Virginia Community College and, later, at George Mason. She graduated this spring from Mason with a B.A. in Communication. "I'm so nervous," she said before the ceremony. "It's silly to be so nervous, but I am."

"We're all really proud of her," says daughter Nina Brown, B.S. '93 and M.A. '98. "She's persevered through quite a lot."

Williams is the last of her familyat least for nowto graduate. In 1982, her eldest child, Cheryl, started at George Mason, later transferring to the University of Virginia. Her son was next to attend George Mason, then daughter, Caroline, B.A. '94, and then Nina. In addition, three of her children's spouses graduated from George Mason. "There actually was one semester when three of my kids and I were all in college at the same time," Williams says.

The Williams family lived in West Springfield, and one might think that George Mason's nearby location was a major factor in their decision to come here. In fact, Williams says all her children lived on campus.

"I wanted them to have the campus experience to enrich their lives and gain independence," she says. "I don't think they would have gone there if it hadn't offered dorms. When my children went to Mason, they really had the feeling that they were away. With my oldest daughter, we didn't even see her until Thanksgiving her first year."

Williams says her family was primarily drawn to the university because of its continual expansion over the years. "It was an up-and-coming school of promise. They kept increasing their offerings. So many different departments have been added. There are so many facilities that weren't there," she says. "We were able to get financial aid, and being a single mother, that was important to me. Mason gave us a good education at a reasonable price."

Williams, who has worked full time while going to school, currently works as a travel counselor for American Express at the World Bank's travel service. She plans to stay there for now, but says, "I thought I might look into something else in my second life. I like advertising and public relations. All the classes I've taken in communication have been very interesting and stimulating, so I think I made a good choice."

However, Williams stresses, "You don't go to college to get a job; you go to get an education. The best thing about college for me was the enrichment of my life in learning about things I had no knowledge of at all. Once you gain your education, that's something you'll always have."

With her classes behind her, Williams looks forward to relaxing and not having to think about the next paper or exam. "I really understand how my kids felt," she says.


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