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97-year-old Margaret Bekema sheds tears of joy after getting high school diploma

Margaret Bekema should have graduated from high school in 1936, but it wasn’t until nearly 80 years later that she received an honorary degree from Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Oct. 29.

EMILY ROSE BENNETT / MLIVE.COM /Landov
Image #: 40476970 97-year-old Margaret Thome Bekema looks at her high school letter as Catholic Central High School principal Greg Deja, left, and Director of Advancement Beth Banta fix her cap shortly after her honorary graduation at Stonebridge Manor on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. Bekema began her education at Catholic Central in 1932 but sacrificed completing her degree at that time to take care of her mother who had cancer and her younger siblings. (Emily Rose Bennett | MLive.com) MLIVE.COM /Landov

After her mom passed away when she was still a teenager, Bekema, now 97, took on the adult responsibilities of running the home. She later went on to do clerical work for the armed forces, prior to becoming a preschool teacher.

EMILY ROSE BENNETT / MLIVE.COM /Landov
97-year-old Margaret Thome Bekema, left, cried before receiving her honorary diploma from Catholic Central High School at Stonebridge Manor.

“Catholic Central is proud to honor Margaret with the diploma she should have received long ago. Even though Margaret never officially completed high school, her story as a former Catholic Central student has impacted the school and our community,” said principal Greg Deja in a press release issued by the school. “The selfless way Margaret lived her life truly embodies Catholic Central’s core values and we are proud to now officially claim her as a Catholic Central alumna.”

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Courtesy of Catholic Central High School
Margaret studied her high school diploma with Principal Greg Deja.

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Deja presented the diploma to an overjoyed and tearful Bekema at the Yorkshire and Stonebridge Manors, a senior community in Walker, Michigan.

"I thank you from the bottom of my heart," said Bekema in a video uploaded by Mlive.com.

Despite her personal and professional achievements, Bekema seems to have always felt the profound absence of the high school diploma.

“I am thrilled that my mother’s life-long dream of receiving her high school diploma is finally being fulfilled," said Bekema's daughter, Gerri Smith, in a statement. Smith was on hand to cheer on her mom during the heartwarming reception, which saw Bekema in a formal graduation cap.

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