Utah mother of 17 gets high school diploma at 92 years old

Posted at 2:14 PM, Jun 17, 2021

A 92-year-old Utah woman received a surprise gift Wednesday, nearly 76 years late.

Barbara Stanley has made the news a few times in her life — not only did she have a baby on the same date as one of her daughters, but she also had 17 kids.

“We had fun, what else do you want to know?” Stanley said.

Eight boys and nine girls — with her boys, Stanley said they had enough for their own recreational team.

“My husband bought them uniforms,” Stanley said.

Stanley met her husband when she was 23 years old. At the time, she had no intention of having a big family. Instead, Stanley wanted to teach physical education.

Born during The Great Depression, Stanley said she grew up helping her sisters out with their kids.

“I guess that’s why I never thought about having some on my own because I was tired of tending,” Stanley said.

When asked why 17 kids, Stanley responded with a laugh “it just happened.”

In all she accomplished, there was one thing Stanley never received — her high school diploma.

It was the late 1940s when Stanley left high school to help her sister, who’s husband went to war. That reality surprised Stanley’s granddaughter, Sheri McFarland.

“I kept thinking, 'if that’s something she regrets, why can’t we just make that not a regret anymore?'” McFarland said.

Stanley had attended Salt Lake City's West High School when she dropped out, so McFarland reached out to administrators to see if they could pull off something special.

“It was extraordinary the circumstances she was in and why she had to leave school,” said Jared Wright, the West High School principal.

Wright said many students dropped out to fight for their country during World War I and again in the 1940s during World War II.

Knowing what Stanley sacrificed, Wright met with his administration to talk about what they could do for the 92-year-old.

“Once a Panther; always a Panther,” Wright said.

After a few months, McFarland was surprised to find a diploma in her mailbox.

“I opened it and cried,” McFarland said.

Nearly 76 years later, McFarland awarded Stanley her diploma — a graduate of the class of 2021.

“Oh my goodness, it’s gorgeous,” Stanley said. “Now can you take me to the prom? I never had a prom dance!”

Stanley watched all of her 17 kids flip their graduation cap tassels, and now it was her turn.

“At the time it didn’t mean anything to me, but now it does,” Stanley said.

All of Stanley’s kids but one, live in Utah. Her youngest son lives in Arizona.

This story was originally published by Erin Cox on Scripps station KSTU in Salt Lake City.