NIU’s soon-to-be oldest graduate expresses excitement for the future

Joyce DeFauw is set to graduate from NIU on Dec. 11 at the age of 90.


Courtesy of NIU

Joyce DeFauw tries on a graduation cap during a visit to the NIU campus in August.

DeKALB – Joyce DeFauw is set to be NIU’s oldest graduate at 90 years old with a bachelor of general studies. 

The college experience can be different for many people; some people take longer than the typical four years, and some choose to take a gap year before going to college. Joyce DeFauw is an exception to these norms. On Dec. 11, DeFauw will be graduating from NIU, 71 years after she first enrolled in 1951. 

DeFauw said she has mixed feelings about her accomplishment as her graduation date approaches. 

“I am apprehensive and happy and scared and excited,” DeFauw said. “Many emotions, many emotions. Anything that is unknown is scary to me, and I don’t know what’s ahead, and I can only trust that I will do what I am supposed to. Even though we don’t know what’s going to happen, it is exciting. So yes, I do look forward to it and I will have accomplished something so I am proud of that, and it gives me satisfaction.”


DeFauw graduated from Geneseo High School in the spring of 1951 and enrolled at NIU in the fall with the plan of getting a degree in early elementary education. She later switched to a major in home economics at the end of her freshman year. 

Joyce DeFauw’s student I.D. from when she was a freshman in 1951. (Courtesy of Jenna Dooley )

DeFauw said she took a break from higher education in 1955 after meeting her first husband, Donald Freeman, at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 511 Russell Road. 

“We went to the same church,” DeFauw said. “Eventually, he started coming to Lehan’s where I worked; and then one thing led to another, and then we decided to get married, and we did and started a family.”

Freeman passed away three years after they were married. 

“He didn’t live long; he was diabetic,” DeFauw said. “After our first three children, he passed away, and I moved back home to my hometown near my parents.”

She eventually remarried Roy DeFauw until he passed after 30 years of marriage. DeFauw and Roy DeFauw had six children.


Her oldest son convinced her to go back to school in 2019 after she moved into a retirement home.

“My oldest son said ‘why don’t you go back to school?’ I thought, ‘well, I have the time, why not,’” DeFauw said. “My children got me a computer, and I had to learn that first. That was the only way I could do school where I live and because of my age and so forth.”

DeFauw said she has seen going back to college as a chance to make something right after she left NIU in 1955.

“I was the first one to go to college in my family,” DeFauw said. “I think my parents were really proud of me, and then I’d say they were disappointed that I didn’t finish. Now maybe that has been fulfilled, and we can be at peace.”

Dr. Judy Santacaterina helps Joyce DeFaux try on a cap and gown during a visit to campus in August. (Courtesy of NIU)

DeFauw had some advice to give to current NIU students. 

“Persevere. I didn’t finish then, but I am finishing now, and I am very happy and thankful,” DeFauw said. “I have many to thank for that, mainly the lord and my family. Just hang in there, and keep going. Don’t give up.”