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November 04, 2015 02:30 PM

One wonderful Michigan woman is living proof that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

Ninety-seven-year-old Margaret Thome Bekema couldn’t hold back the tears as she received an honorary high school diploma from Catholic Central High School in Walker, Michigan, on October 29 – nearly 80 years after she had to leave school to care for her ailing mother.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” an emotional Bekema said to principal Greg Deja after he awarded her the diploma in front of her family and friends during a small ceremony at the Yorkshire and Stronebridge Manors senior community.

(We’re not crying, you’re crying. Okay, we’re crying a little, too.)

Despite being an A and B student when she was in high school, Bekema was forced to drop out during her junior year to help care for her younger siblings and her mother, who had cancer.

Margaret Thome Bekema's diploma
Emily Rose Bennett/The Grand Rapids Press/AP

“I had to quit school to take over the family,” Bekema told MLive.com. “It was hard, you have no idea how hard that was. I loved high school and I had lots of friends.”

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Bekema always regretted not being able to graduate with the rest of Catholic Central’s Class of 1936, so Sister Maureen Geary, the daughter of Bekema’s cousin, Marian, was determined to help make her dream a reality. In August, Geary contacted the school to inquire about offering Bekema an honorary diploma, and her request touched Principal Deja.

“Her life has been one of sacrifice and service,” he said. “It has been so encouraging and inspiring for our community because her choices represent all the core values that we teach our students.”

She also just officially became our new role model. Congratulations, Margaret!

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