Graduation Celebration Speaker: Mary Ann Norbom

Mary Ann Norbom graduated from Penn State on Saturday, August 13, 2016, 47 years after she left the University and went on to a career in celebrity journalism. She completed the remaining credits for her bachelor’s degree in political science through Penn State World Campus. Mary Ann was one of the student speakers at the Penn State World Campus Graduation Celebration.

Here are her remarks from the event:

Good evening everyone,

When I put on that cap and gown tomorrow, it will be for a graduation more than 45 years in the making!

Some of you probably assumed I was parent of a graduate, even a grandparent. I am proud to say — I am a World Campus Class of 2016 Penn State graduate.

I was a student here at University Park from 1967 to 1969. Those were heady days. I was busy protesting the war in Vietnam, campaigning for Eugene McCarthy, and, of course, going to football games. Studying? Well, not so much. I completed 75 credits with a mediocre GPA, and then – in what I can only call a foolish mistake of youth – dropped out.

I already had the idea of going into journalism, and in those days, honestly, a degree didn’t matter much, especially in my chosen field – entertainment journalism.  I spent the next four decades interviewing many of Hollywood’s biggest stars, going to the Oscars and the Emmys. I was entertained at Johnny Carson’s house, chatted with Frank Sinatra at an intimate cocktail party, and dined with Elizabeth Taylor. In later years, my business meant spending a day with Matthew McConaughey and his new baby and going to Charlie Sheen’s wedding. Not having a degree didn’t matter to my job title or my salary.

But the older I got, the more it mattered to ME.  A sense of unfinished business was gnawing away.  “College dropout” was a title I hated.

I spent more than a year exploring my options.  Then one day, sitting at my desk, and staring at the Penn State website, the words ‘World Campus’ jumped out at me. It was like the proverbial light bulb going off over my head.  I picked up the phone, spoke to a helpful person in admissions, filled out a simple one-page re-enrollment form – and I was back!

That was summer 2014.  Since then, a handful of classes were relatively easy for me, but most had their challenges. A 67-year-old brain simply doesn’t function as quickly as a 30-year-old one.  Classes that might have taken someone younger 8 hours a week, took me 12. But boy was I disciplined! I did the work no matter how long it took and earned Dean’s List honors to prove it.

World Campus made the process easy. I had an extremely helpful academic adviser. And the tech support team was the absolute best! I owe a percentage of my GPA to every staff member who helped me.

I’m earning my degree tomorrow in Political Science. I loved, loved becoming more educated on that subject. Courses in constitutional law and terrorism have made me a far more educated voter.

For my electives, I took classes in subjects that I thought would be either fun or informative.  A criminal justice class about wrongful convictions made me a better citizen. News Media Ethics, a Communications course, gave me a whole new lens through which to look when I’m at work in my current job, as a community newspaper editor. I adored the Music of the Beatles class not just because I actually saw them live in 1964 but also because of the creative instruction by the extraordinary Esther Benetz, who I’m delighted to say, is here tonight.

Even the Finite Mathematics class that made me want to cry when I started — I eventually learned to appreciate. I will always treasure a note from my instructor who, after I scanned over homework one day, wrote back “I have no what you’re doing, but don’t stop because you’re coming up with the right answers.” It was the best encouragement he could have given me.

World Campus is going to help most of you advance professionally, and that is a worthy goal. For me, it was for personal advancement.

So my message to all of us here is to keep on learning. And if you have parents who like me, dropped out, encourage them to return.

I’m on to the next chapter of my life. I’m not sure what it is yet but I know it will involve continuing education for me and perhaps for others.

To learn is to live. And I’m not ready to stop doing either.

Read more about Mary Ann’s journey to receiving her Penn State degree.