Archive for Friday, April 8, 2011

KU alumna receives degree more than 70 years after having never applied for graduation

Margaret Shirk, 93, of Lawrence, received her KU degree that she earned in 1939 during a lunch at Teller's with her daughter, Nancy Yonally, and her son-in-law Jim Yonally, both of Overland Park.

April 8, 2011


Margaret Eloise Lewis was surprised by her family during a lunch at Teller's Friday when they gave her a framed copy of her diploma. She graduated from Kansas University in 1939 with a degree in economics.

Margaret Eloise Lewis was surprised by her family during a lunch at Teller's Friday when they gave her a framed copy of her diploma. She graduated from Kansas University in 1939 with a degree in economics.

Margaret Shirk knew she was in for a nice lunch at Teller’s on Friday with family, but she didn’t know the reason.

More than seven decades ago, she walked down the hill at Kansas University’s commencement ceremony. But for some reason she never went through the motions to actually apply for graduation and get her degree certified.

On Friday, the 93-year-old Lawrence resident got the degree, if a few years late.

“What could I have done with a diploma?” she asked Friday, saying she already had a good job — she went on to have a long career as a stockbroker and has been an investor since she was 13 — and was busy taking care of her kids and keeping stats for her husband’s basketball team.

This process toward actually securing a diploma began when she mentioned something about maybe seeing what she needed to do to complete her degree, and Jim Yonally, a former state representative and Shirk’s son-in-law, overheard and called up to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and asked what she needed for a degree.

Shirk thought she still needed to take a class or two. Maybe they would let her take a correspondence class, she thought.

And she already acted like an alumna, having volunteered for decades for the KU athletics department, the alumni association and the endowment association.

But, as it turned out, Shirk had already done all the hard parts.

Bailey DeReus, graduation adviser for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was the one who verified that she met the requirements for her bachelor of arts degree in economics.

DeReus had to dust off the course catalog from 1932-36 to ensure that Shirk met all the requirements. Her paper transcripts were still around. But some work needed to be done to convert her courses that could be loaded into KU’s online system.

“It was really exciting to figure out,” DeReus said, adding that because she met all the requirements, “I think she should definitely have that degree.”

Tuition has gone up a bit — it was $2 per credit hour for a Kansas resident back then, DeReus said. It’s $262.50 per hour for a resident who entered in fall 2010.

DeReus guessed that Shirk just didn’t go through the application process for a degree, though it’s hard to say what that might have entailed in 1939. Shirk, for her part, didn’t remember the exact nature of the glitch either.

“I really don’t deserve it because I didn’t have the sense to go get it,” she said.

Her family and the university disagreed.

Whatever the glitch was, it’s fixed now, and KU added Shirk’s name (Margaret Lewis, actually, her maiden name) to its list of graduates from 1939.

She had a good time back then, she said. She wasn’t in a sorority, she said, but she went to all the dances. James Naismith performed a wedding ceremony for her aunt — Shirk was the flower girl.

She had season basketball tickets — and still goes to all the home games.

Shirk won’t be walking down the hill again — she could physically do it, she’s quick to point out, but there’s no need. She already did it once.

On Friday, she read cards of congratulations from friends and relatives.

Yonally mentioned his son had a hard time finding a good card.

“They were all out of ‘Happy Graduation, Grandma’ cards,” he said.


jayhawks71 7 years, 2 months ago

"And she already acted like an alumna"

Well, that's because she was an alumna. Even had she not graduated, she would have been an alumna because she attended KU.

Congrats to her.

dajudge 7 years, 2 months ago

What exactly is an "alumna"? I think "alumnus" is the singular form and "alumni" is the plural form, so, which form of the word is "alumna"? Maybe the singular form of "alumnuses"?

Jonathan Kealing 7 years, 2 months ago

Alumna is the singular form of alumni, if it's a woman. Alumna and alumnae (for a group of alumna — all women), alumnus for the singular form of alumni, if it's a man, and alumni for either all men, or men and women.

Bassetlover 7 years, 2 months ago

Margaret Shirk is a rock star. Don't be fooled by her age. She is sharper than most people half her age and also fit as a fiddle. Love seeing her at so many events in Lawrence wearing her red high heels. Hope she lives another 93 years. She is a true Lawrence icon.

Bill Lee 7 years, 2 months ago

Maybe I should finish my degree. I need seven hours for my degree and have eight hours of incomplete. If I can get credit for those eight hours, I shouldn't have to pay any additional tuition. I'd have done it before now if I could figure out where to park.

jayhawks71 7 years, 2 months ago

Misterlee, how long ago were those incompletes? I believe that "I" grades turn into "F"s automatically after a year. You'd probably have to take all of those hours over, pay tuition, and you'd also have Fs on your transcript. I'm guessing the Registrar can give you the most accurate info.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.