Among the 500 dark blue caps in the Butcher Center Saturday, May 4 was one decorated with a "72" made of rhinestones. Patricia Wilburn's granddaughter crafted the mortarboard with her age for her walk to receive a Regents Bachelor of Artsdegree at Shepherd University's 140th commencement.
Wilburn, an Inwood resident, graduated high school over 50 years ago, but said she always wanted a college degree.
"I think you should pursue your dreams, whatever it is, just go with your heart," Wilburn said. "I don't think you can learn too much. A life is a learning experience, and it never ends."
She married after high school, raised a family, and worked as a secretary. She took her first college class in 1986 when her ten children were mostly grown, but her second husband's career as a Marine relocated them, and she would have to find another school in which to enroll.
After Jack died in 2006, Wilburn sold their house in Virginia and moved to West Virginia where two of her children lived. She started taking classes at Mountain State University in 2008 but came to Shepherd for her last two semesters after Mountain State closed.
Wilburn said she loved Shepherd and found the professors passionate and enthusiastic and the students engaged and often debated with them in her political science class.
"I think Dr. Stern wanted to throw me out at times, but I liked him. He was fun. We had some riotous debates," Wilburn said.
Dr. Mark Stern, university professor and professor of political science at Shepherd, said Wilburn is a bright and delightful person who was always a pleasure with whom to speak.
"She was always interested in what was being discussed and brought her experience and knowledge into discussions," he said.
Wilburn said she was worried she would not fit in, but soon found herself in necessary study groups, not only to learn the coursework but for peer support as well. She hosted the group at her house and made chicken and dumplings and cookies, or they met in the library's study rooms and had sandwiches.
Also helpful, Wilburn said, was her advisor, Nancy Snyder, coordinator of Regents Bachelor of Arts at Shepherd.
"Nan knew what she was doing," she said.
Snyder said Wilburn was driven and determined to get her degree.
"She had accomplished a lot in her life and this was the missing piece. I'm so glad I could help her accomplish her goal," Snyder said.
Wilburn said she plans to spend time with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, to garden, to return to her volunteer work at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center and as an advocate for Shenandoah's Women's Center, and to become certified to substitute teach. And to keep in touch with some of her classmates.
"I learned so much here, and I'm going to miss those kids," she said.