A Homecoming 60 Years in the Making

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It is never, ever too late to achieve your goals. Sometimes, the road from point A to point B contains a few curves and road blocks, but that doesn’t mean it’s a dead end path.

Next time you think it’s too late to live your dreams, think of Barbara Giacino. She attended Syracuse University from 1952-1955, but like so many women of her generation, she left school early to get married and raise her family.

But her dreams of finishing her degree never died. So, in her 80s, she decided she’d waited long enough. Under the guidance of her former school Syracuse University, she completed the necessary credits at Oregon State University this past summer, near her current home, and Syracuse accepted the transfer of the credits toward her degree. And, at the age of 84, at long last, she proudly earned that associate’s degree.

To celebrate her milestone, she and son, Dennis, traveled this week across the country to visit Syracuse University and her new alma mater rolled out the red, er, orange, carpet! (A note of disclosure: the author of this piece is also a proud graduate of Syracuse University. Go Orange!)

  • Barbara Giacino grins ear-to-ear when she gets her first glimpse of the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center.

    Barbara Giacino grins ear-to-ear when she gets her first glimpse of the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center.

  • With her proud son, Dennis, by her side, Barbara Giacino returns to Syracuse University more than 60 years after leaving campus.

    With her proud son, Dennis, by her side, Barbara Giacino returns to Syracuse University more than 60 years after leaving campus.

  • Barbara Giacino poses alongside a statue of her former classmate, football great Jim Brown.

    Barbara Giacino poses alongside a statue of her former classmate, football great Jim Brown.

  • Barbara finally gets to meet two women instrumental in her journey to a degree: Rosemary Kelly, Assistant Dean, Student Admin. at University College, SU and Janine Jarvis, Academic Advisor. They helped Barbara figure out which coursework she needed to take and petitioned the Deans of Continuing Ed and Arts & Sciences for approval.

    Barbara finally gets to meet two women instrumental in her journey to a degree: Rosemary Kelly, Assistant Dean, Student Admin. at University College, SU and Janine Jarvis, Academic Advisor. They helped Barbara figure out which coursework she needed to take and petitioned the Deans of Continuing Ed and Arts & Sciences for approval.

  • Barbara Giacino proudly receives the SU grad crystal, a gift given to all of the university's graduates.

    Barbara Giacino proudly receives the SU grad crystal, a gift given to all of the university's graduates.

  • Barbara and Dennis Giacino standing on the field in Manley Field House. Today, it's a practice facility for the Syracuse Orange football team, but when Barbara attended, it was the site of men's basketball games.

    Barbara and Dennis Giacino standing on the field in Manley Field House. Today, it's a practice facility for the Syracuse Orange football team, but when Barbara attended, it was the site of men's basketball games.

  • Barbara Giacino enjoyed a special meeting with the university's Vice Chancellor/Provost Michele G. Wheatley.

    Barbara Giacino enjoyed a special meeting with the university's Vice Chancellor/Provost Michele G. Wheatley.

  • Dean of of Continuing Education Michael Frasciello welcomes the new grad to campus.

    Dean of of Continuing Education Michael Frasciello welcomes the new grad to campus.

Her itinerary included a luncheon to honor her achievement, attended by the Dean of of Continuing Education Michael Frasciello and all the staff who helped Giacino on her journey to graduation. At the luncheon, she received her diploma and bag of SU swag, including a sparking crystal that is given to every SU graduate.

Her VIP tour continued with a visit with the university’s Vice Chancellor/Provost Michele G. Wheatley and a tour of the Carmelo K. Anthony Building, home of the men’s basketball program. Giacino, a huge fan of all SU sports, was thrilled to see the 2003 National Championship trophy.

Then, she her son stood in the middle of Manley Field House, where the new grad attended basketball games back in the 1950s. Today, it serves as a football practice field.

“Mom was in her element,” Dennis Giacino tells Growing Bolder. “She had a a big ol’ ear-to-ear smile all the way through this shrine to SU athletics!”

Finally, her tour took her by the university’s tribute to football great Jim Brown. The statute brought back memories for Barbara Giacino, who once sat next to Brown in anatomy class.

Dennis, a noted playwright, says it’s just the latest example of his mom continuing to inspire and awe him.

“My mom is the definition of an empowered, strong woman,” he says. “My dad passed away way too young, and my mom put me and my two sisters through college while rebuilding the family home that had burned to the ground a year-and-a-half to the day after my dad died.”

One of his sisters went on to become a teacher for children with special needs and the other is a chemist. Dennis is the brains behind the worldwide sensation, the musical-comedy Disenchanted, which features some beloved fairy tale princesses flipping their damsel-in-distress plots on their head. Growing Bolder profiled his original Snow White, Michelle Knight, a few years back, and in this piece below, you get just a glimpse of Giacino’s wickedly hilarious writing.

But this week, the spotlight is shining on his mom and her incredible achievement.

“I am so proud of you!” he wrote on Facebook after her final exam. “Keep showing the world what it’s like to be fierce!”

Someone else who knows a little something about being fierce is the unforgettable Ms. Vi, who graduated from college at the age of 76 and amidst a battle against lupus.

Then there’s history-making Nola Ochs. In May 2007, she became the oldest person to graduate from college in the history of the world. The 95-year-old graduated from Fort Hays State University in Kansas 77 years after she first started taking classes. She passed away in 2016 at the age of 105 and we were honored to speak with her before her death.

We hope stories like Barbara’s, Ms. Vi’s and Nola’s will inspire you to never, ever give up on your goals, no matter how long it takes to achieve them.