Rosemary Frank
Mary Ellen Foley photos

Mary Ellen Foley's college and high school graduation photos: 2024 and 1950

Dressed in an MU cap and gown, Mary Ellen Foley proudly poses for graduation photos. She has been waiting for this moment for years – 74 to be exact. At 91-years-young, Mary is finally accomplishing something she set out to do more than seven decades ago – graduate with a degree from Mizzou.

"My father wanted me to go into teaching because he only had an 8th grade education," said Mary, who began pursuing a degree in early childhood education and a minor in physical education at Southwest Missouri State College now known as Missouri State University, in 1950. Five years later, she transferred to Mizzou after marrying Charles Foley who was studying animal science. Mary was only a few credit hours shy of graduation when she and Charles discovered they were pregnant with their first child.

While Charles earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and post-doctoral degree from the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), Mary took a break from her studies to take care of their growing family. She considered reenrolling at Mizzou in 1975 when her husband began working as a professor at CVM but found that her degree requirements had changed. Instead of a few credit hours, she needed to complete several semesters to earn her degree. Putting her family first, Mary invested her energy into her four children, preparing them for college and celebrating their academic success as they graduated with degrees – three as Mizzou Tigers.

A few weeks ago, Mary told her grandson Brandon Droy that she’d like to finish her degree even if it wasn’t in education. Brandon reached out to the University of Missouri and asked them to review Mary’s transcript.

The transcript landed on Carlynn Trout’s desk. Trout, a senior academic advisor in the Office of Multidisciplinary Degrees, helps students build an individualized major to meet their education and career objectives in the College of Arts and Science. After running a credit analysis, Trout discovered that Mary had enough credits to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in general studies. Dr. Jim Spain, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies, confirmed the graduation plan.

Mary Ellen Foley 1952

Mary Ellen Foley in a 1952 college photo.

"Mizzou’s current academic policies and processes allow us to bestow Mary with her degree that she has earned and deserves," said Dr. Spain. "We are excited to have her as a member of the May 2024 graduating class of the University of Missouri."

Mary’s family received the wonderful news on what would have been her late husband’s birthday. Charles, who had a distinguished military and academic career, passed away in March 2024.

"I am excited and surprised," says Mary who will receive her degree during the A&S commencement ceremony on Saturday. Although she won’t be able to attend the ceremony in person, she and her extended family and friends will gather to watch the ceremony’s livestream. "I put aside my degree so I could work," she said, recalling the choice she made many years ago. "I’m just glad that all my children received their college degrees." As for the future, she will continue to do what she loves doing best, spending time with her family, including 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, while encouraging them to focus on their education.

Mary Ellen Foley with graduation regalia

Mary Ellen Foley, 2024 college graduate