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75 years in the making: 92-year-old student earns degree from Union College

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Posted at 9:30 AM, Aug 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-13 09:30:29-04

BARBOURVILLE, Ky. (LEX 18) — Opal Clark Tye became a member of the bulldog family at Union College In the fall of 1945. Seventy-five years later, she is now a member of the alumni association.

On Wednesday, Union College President Marica Hawkins conferred Tye’s degree virtually. Tye, dressed in the college’s cap and gown, was all smiles as her diploma was already displayed on the wall in her room at Christian Care Communities in Corbin.

Hawkins heard Tye’s story for the first time this spring. And after a little digging, he discovered she was eligible for a Union College degree.

“I am so happy to be able to do this and I just thank your family, especially your granddaughter, for bringing to our attention that you had enough credits to graduate,” Hawkins said to Tye.

Tye, then Opal Clark, lost her parents at a young age and was taken in at the Methodist Home for Children of Cedartown, an orphanage in Georgia.

During her senior year of high school, the orphanage had a special visitor: Dr. Conway Boatman, the president of Union College.

“He asked them who was athletic and smart because Union could offer them scholarships to attend. My granny said she raised her hand high,” said Joslyn Flynn.

At 17 years old, Tye attended on a full scholarship. She shined on campus, both academically and athletically as a cheerleader. It was at Union where she met Herman Mitchell Tye, the two married in 1949 and she never completed her degree.

Tye went on to raise a family and became a prominent figure in the local community. As life continued, degrees and requirements at Union College changed.

“When her granddaughter came and prompted us to start looking, we found out she had plenty of credits to graduate with a general studies degree, but back at that time we didn’t have general studies,” said Hawkins.

Three-quarters of a century in the making, the orphan from Georgia finally checks all the boxes and is a Union College graduate.