Lehigh woman becomes oldest to graduate FGCU, inspires others

One graduate stood out from the rest, as nearly 2,000 FGCU students made the March to Alico Arena this spring. One woman crossed the stage and crossed an item off her bucket list at the age of 81 — earning her doctorate in education (Ed.D.).

Hellen Leddy said going back to school in her late 70s wasn’t part of her retirement plan.

“I never thought this would happen. I’m very excited,” Hellen Leddy said.

The university’s president is equally as proud of Leddy as she feels for her own accomplishment.

“She’s an inspiration to students, to faculty,” FGCU President Michal Martin said. “She’s the perfect example that it’s never over.”

And Leddy is earning her degree two months shy of her eighty-second birthday.

“Most people were like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ And ‘Who goes back to school at your age,’” Leddy said.

Leddy looks at her decision to study for her doctorate as a testament to the longevity she has achieved in life as well as in education.

“I think keeping your mind alive and alert is a good way of staying youthful,” Leddy said. “I found it very exciting to be there and back in the classroom.”

Leddy is using her education to help others reach their milestones.

“My dissertation is on the impact of college on students with disabilities,” Leddy said. “And the results will improve some of the services that are available to students with disabilities at FGCU and potentially other campuses.”

Now that Leddy has earned the title of doctor, she hopes to write more articles and inspire schools to make improvements for students with disabilities, all while reminding us that age isn’t a factor.

“The amount of work that she put into this is an indication of the amount of passion she has,” said Professor Judy R. Wilkerson, Ph.D with FGCU College of Education Research. “She believes strongly in what she does.”

Leddy has a little fun she can play with the new title earned, and she also spreads her own message for what is possible if you dedicate your mind and your time.

“I told my daughter to call me ‘Doctor mom,'” Leddy said. “One of the messages that goes out from this graduation is that you are never too old.”

Reporter:Melinda Lee
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