Amid a sea of students in their early 20s wearing caps and gowns at the UMass-Lowell graduation recently, at least one person stood out as not quite fitting the traditional, youthful demographic.
Mary Humble, of Andover, is 76.
But that's not the only unique thing about Humble, who got her bachelor's degree in liberal arts at the school's commencement ceremony on May 17.
Rooting her on, after having studied alongside her, were her daughter, Deirdre Hutchison, 50, and her granddaughter, Georgina Hutchison, 20, also both of Andover and also both students at UMass-Lowell the past year.
"We have studied together, and each of us has kind of inspired the other one to do homework and motivate each other," said daughter Deirdre. "To see my mom wearing a hat and gown was really touching, and I'm so proud of her because I know with all her studies she battled a lot."
Humble's diploma follows decades of fighting against the odds. Growing up in Ireland, she was taken out of school at age 15 to work in her family business, which was an establishment that served as a gas station and restaurant, among other amenities.
After getting married and having children, Humble moved to Tewksbury in 1994 where she worked in advertising.
On top of battling the responsibilities that came along with taking care of a family, Humble also fought cancer and could no longer work as she underwent chemotherapy.
Though she was told by doctors she would have anywhere from three months to three years to live, she is now in remission after her diagnosis 18 years ago. And on top of that, she is a college graduate.
Bored with being home and wanting to keep her mind active, Humble got her General Educational Development, or GED, from a high school in Tewksbury. She then earned her associate's degree from Middlesex Community College before enrolling at UMass-Lowell.
It has taken Humble nearly 10 years to receive her degree, but Deirdre said those years watching her mother attend college inspired her to do the same.
"I saw mom go back and I was like, 'If she can do it I can do it,'" she said. "So after 30 years, I finally picked up the courage and took a couple classes at Northern Essex Community College."
Deirdre then enrolled at UMass-Lowell after spending a day shadowing another student, and is now studying history there with a minor in English.
Georgina, meanwhile, not to be left out of the family fun, transferred to UMass-Lowell from the University of Scranton and studies criminal justice. Over the summer, she even took a class with her grandmother.
Deirdre said she hopes her 17-year-old son Sebastian will attend the school one day, too, and follow in his sister's, mother's and grandmother's footsteps.