U of M student returns to graduate – at 78 years old

The Carlson School of Management is about to send a new set of students into their careers. 

They are the latest graduates from the University of Minnesota who are ready to change the world… And then, there’s Kay Lacher who already has.

"I had a journey of education for 40 years," Lacher told FOX 9 as she was preparing to put on her robe inside the Mariucci Center.

For Lacher, this is actually her second graduation ceremony. She first walked across the stage in 1980 after completing all of her courses for an accounting degree. But it turned out she was five elective credits short of what the University required at the time, and she didn’t get her diploma. 

At the time, Lacher was a divorced, single mother of two boys who had to make a tough choice.

"My children were in high school and at that time in their life when their mom was very important," she said. "And the choice was really easy for me, be a mother and the career will come later."

It took her 40 years to journey back. During the pandemic she says she needed a project to complete, so now in her 70s she returned to the U of M.

"I re-enrolled and re-activated my student account, and took my five credits. I got one A and a B+, so I made my goal of increasing my cumulative GPA," she said.

It wasn’t easy. Even her academic advisor Jan O’Brien says graduating at Lacher’s age is quite unique.

"School is different now that it was in the 80’s," O’Brien said. "The way they teach classes is different.  Everything is online, the technology is expanded."

O’Brien says it takes courage, but Lacher is a model for lifelong learning and an example of how former students can return and take classes at their own pace.

"You can do it part time, you can do it full time, whatever works," O’Brien said. "Your credits don’t expire. You can come back and finish your degree."  

Lacher took a class on the history of interior design and another in public health.

"There was not one person on this whole staff that was ever angry with me, that was harsh with me, that was impatient with me. Everyone welcomed me with open arms and more. And I would say go for it.  Just do it," said Lacher.

Her new diploma will hang above her desk and she says she can finally check that off her bucket list.   But she also admits she has one more goal.

"When I was a student in 1980 with two children, I never got to see a football game. I want to see a football game," Lacher said. " I want to see P.J. Fleck and I want to see the academic all-stars run out onto the field and I want to see them win a game and I want to jump down and cheer."