No one was more surprised when Beatrice Lillie walked the stage of Houston Community College’s (HCC) Commencement Ceremony than Lillie herself. The 80-year-old received her associate degree in business management late last month at NRG Stadium.
“I would not have believed it, I don’t think, although we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us,” said Lillie, adding that she and her classmates cheered each other on until the very end. “The young ladies were saying, I know I can do it, if you can do it.”
Though Lillie had a full life of career experiences as a secretary for the Harris County Probation Department, a cosmetologist, and even owning her own answering-service business, a college degree eluded her.
Lillie’s degree is from HCC’s Business Center of Excellence, which offers A.A. and A.A.S. degrees with certificates in several specializations. Friends and family encouraged her to take the big step to enroll at HCC.
Pastor Maceo Dillard, Jr., who works with seniors like Beatrice Lillie at the Northeast Houston Multi-Service Center, where she also volunteers, inspired her to enroll, as well.
“I said ‘Go for it. You can’t win if you never try,’” said Dillard. “It’s important for people to keep going and engaging their minds, instead of just sitting back.”
Though Lillie received encouragement from her supporters, she was also an inspiration to others, especially her own grandchildren, most of whom are enrolled in college now and who attended her HCC graduation ceremony. One person who missed seeing the 80-year-old walk across the stage as a graduate was her mother.
“I think she really would have been proud,” said Lillie.
Her mother would have no doubt swelled with pride knowing that her daughter expanded her horizons by learning about diversity and gaining an appreciation for art, in addition to her business studies at HCC. With her new degree, Lillie is now computer-savvy, she says, but is content spending her time volunteering with seniors at the Northeast Houston Multi-Service Center, where Pastor Dillard continues to be a mentor. She is also involved with her church, but she told a local TV crew that she doesn’t plan to pursue a new career.