Better late than never: 90-year-old grandmother waits seven decades to graduate from University of Manchester after WW2 got in the way

Gene Hetherington finally collects her BA in Commerce at a ceremony alongside her 23-year-old granddaughter

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The Independent Online

If you think three years is a long time to wait until you receive your degree, just imagine waiting 70 years for it.

A 90-year-old woman has finally graduated from the University of Manchester, an incredible seven decades after she finished her degree there.

Helen Georgine "Gene" Hetherington completed her BA in Commerce in August 1943, but couldn’t attend her ceremony because she was working towards the war effort as an auditor in aircraft factories.

At the time that she was studying, her fellow students were all dropping out so that they could fight in the war or contribute in other ways at home.

She told the Manchester Evening News that "there were a few men to start with but as the war went on they got called up. Eventually, in one subject I was the only student with the lecturer."

“As students, we had to go down into the cellars when the sirens went because we did not have any proper shelters.

"There were only enough mattresses for one of the three years of students. We only had a mattress to sleep on every third night, whilst on the first and second nights we each slept in a deckchair."

She began her life after the war as a buyer for Lewis’s department store, and between that and having a family, she found herself far too busy to return back to university to collect her degree.

Receiving degrees late seems to run in the family as Gene’s son David had to wait 35 years to attend his own graduation after his was cancelled in 1974 after the IRA bombings in Coventry and Birmingham.

It seems to have skipped a generation though, as Mrs Hetherington shared her ceremony with her granddaughter Rachel, 23, who collected her degree in Law (promptly!)  from the university on the same day.

At the graduation, Rachel said, "I have enjoyed my time at Manchester and I was very proud to share my graduation ceremony with my grandmother.

"I cannot imagine that many people can claim to have done that."