By Julia Moro
As the most senior graduate of The College of New Rochelle, Ozone Park resident Bettye Lee has completed an educational journey spanning her 76 years of life.
Born in Williston, S.C., Lee was raised by her grandmother, who had 12 children of her own.
“They called me ‘Lucky 13,’” Lee said.
After she completed high school, Lee moved to New York, where she got married and started a family of her own, which grew to include three daughters and a son. Lee and her husband of 56 years, Melvin Lee, Jr., now have eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren in the family.
Even though Lee postponed her quest to earn a bachelor’s degree until the age of 72, education has always been a part of her life. She worked for the New York City Board of Education food service for 21 years, retiring in 2007. During those years, Lee earned a certificate in ministry from the New York Theological Seminary and taught adult Sunday school classes.
“After I retired, we planned to relocate to Florida, but my husband became ill, so we decided to stay,” Lee said. “You know, sometimes we make our own plans, but God knows better.” That divine intervention is eventually what brought Lee to The College of New Rochelle.
Lee was encouraged by her children to finally get her bachelor’s degree and at the suggestion of her daughter, Lee enrolled in the School of New Resources Brooklyn Campus, one of the four schools within The College of New Rochelle. Four years and countless classes later, Lee joined her graduating class at CNR’s 111th Commencement in May.
During the May 23 ceremony, the audience roared with applause as Lee was one of the few recognized by CNR President Dr. William Latimer for her outstanding story.
“I just can’t stop thinking about that day,” she said. “I’ll never forget walking across that stage.”
Lee expressed her gratitude to faculty, staff and fellow classmates for inspiring her. Lee also noted her love for her husband and their children as well as her sincere appreciation for their support and patience during her years earning her degree.
Lee said she will use her degree to encourage her grandchildren to embrace education.
For now, Lee is leaving her future in the hands of God.
“I’m going to look back at this experience and wait to see what God has ahead for me,” she said.
Reach reporter Julia Moro by e-mail at jmoro