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A Degree Decades in the Making

August 25, 2015

On August 15, 2015, hundreds of students completed a four- or five-year journey, graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). Jean Kops took a different route. The 87-year-old great-grandmother graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, fulfilling the pursuit of a degree she started over 70 years ago.

Credit: Craig Chandler/University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Jean Kops waves to friends and family after receiving her degree. Credit: Craig Chandler/University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Jean began her studies at the University in 1945 at the end of World War II. At that time, it was a rarity for women to attend college. In her family, however, it was expected, as her parents valued education. Jean attended college for two years, taking core classes and attending Husker football games.

In 1947, Jean left college, and she married her late husband, Lyle, a year later. They went on to raise five daughters on their family ranch in Bassett, Neb., Jean’s hometown. Over the years she devoted most of her time to taking care of her family, and stayed busy with various community activities. Returning to finish their degrees was something Jean and Lyle discussed now and then, but other priorities always came first.

In September 2011, Jean’s husband passed away. Unsure what to do next, Jean began to consider returning to school. With the support and encouragement of her daughters, Jean returned to UNL and began taking online classes in 2012. Soon after, Jean started taking classes on campus.

Although Jean was initially nervous about fitting in with students who were younger than her grandchildren, her fears quickly faded. Her days soon filled with writing papers, cramming for exams, and participating in classroom discussions.

Jean enjoyed the process of learning, and shared life experiences with her younger classmates. Fellow students appreciated her openness and willingness to share firsthand accounts on past events, as well her ability to provide a new perspective on current topics.

Jean’s story is a testament to the importance of lifelong learning. Whether the journey lasts a semester or a lifetime, it is never too late to continue the learning process and reach your educational goals.

This is one in a series of stories we hope to feature on educational inspiration: stories of students, administrators, teachers, or anything related to education that inspires us or moves toward Nelnet’s mission of a more educated world.

Do you have an inspiring educational story you’d like to suggest for this blog series? Send it to

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