Student to graduate from university more than 50 years after starting degree

Thursday, December 15, 2005

When Virginia McNeill left North Texas State College in Denton for financial reasons, she promised herself she'd return one day to finish her bachelor's degree.

It took 53 years, but on Dec. 17, M cNeill, now 71 and owner of a Denton store that bears her name, will graduate from the college that is now the University of North Texas.

McNeill, owner of McNeill's Furniture and Appliance on Denton' s historic downtown square, will receive her bachelor of applied arts and sciences degree magna cum laude. The degree program, which is administered by UNT's College of Public Affairs and Community Service, allowed McNeill to apply some of the business courses she took when she first entered the university in 1951 toward her degree, including defunct courses such as shorthand.

"I was afraid I might not be able to do the coursework, but I really felt at home at UNT. Everyone was so nice and encouraging," she said.

McNeill said she was familiar with North Texas State College long before she began her degree in 1951. She attended the college's training school, an elementary and secondary school on campus that provided education majors with a venue for student teaching, from kindergarten through ninth grade. She meets with her former classmates from the school every month.

McNeill left Denton when she moved to Abilene with her family, and graduated from Abilene High School. But she returned to Denton to go to college, and never left.

In 1952, after earning 40 hours of credit toward her degree, "I had to leave and get a job because there were no student loans then to pay for school," McNeill recalls.

She later married, and in 1962, McNeill and her husband, Charles, bought their business and stayed busy establishing it.

In 1983, McNeill re-enrolled at UNT and took nine hours of accounting courses, attending classes in the evenings.

"When I came back, the university had to hunt in the archives to find my records, and convert my grades on a 3.0. grade point system to a 4.0 grade point system," she said. "When I finished the three accounting courses, I had an overall GPA of 3.93."

McNeill took classes only one semester in 1983, leaving UNT to concentrate on her store. Her husband's and mother's deaths in 1997 and 1999 made McNeill decide to enroll once again.

"I always had the nagging feeling that I wanted to go back and get my degree, and I decided I wouldn't quit until I had it," she said.

She entered the bachelor of applied arts and sciences degree program in 2002 and took evening and Internet courses, taking no more than 12 hours a semester and aiming to graduate magna cum laude, with a GPA between 3.8 and 4.0.

"In the fall of 2004, when UNT reconfigured its computer system, my GPA of 3.93 went down to 3.7. I had already counted on graduating magna cum laude," she said. "This past summer, my GPA reached 3.8."

Although she's been a successful business owner for more than 40 years, McNeill said she still learned "information I didn't have about the business world."

"Many subjects were brand new to me, but I also took classes I wasn't interested in when I was younger, like history. It was amazing to me," she said. "The teachers were good in the 1950s, and they're still good. That's one thing that hasn't changed about North Texas."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108