79-year-old to complete undergraduate education at Harding after 50 years

SEARCY, Ark. — Affectionately and respectfully known as “Miss Betty” to her classmates, graduating Harding University student Betty Fulop of Athol, Idaho, is not your typical college senior. At 79 years old, Fulop will receive her bachelor’s degree in the upcoming commencement ceremony May 14 with her children, grandchildren and friends in attendance.

With a past marked by poverty, abuse and hardship, Fulop has overcome countless obstacles to complete her undergraduate career. What takes most students four years to accomplish has persisted for Fulop since her first college semester in 1957. After dropping out of high school for an early marriage, she earned 85 hours of college credit over the next 50 years as a mother of five children, widowed wife of an abusive husband, grandmother to 15 and great-grandmother to seven.

Since beginning her first semester at Harding in 2007, Fulop said she has gained an appreciation for the things she has been exposed to, such as history, sports and chapel, but she said her interaction with students has especially encouraged her.

 “I have enjoyed the younger people and have more respect and interest in teenagers than I did before coming,” Fulop said. “I want to thank them for being so good and kind to me and showing me the respect they have. I like being called ‘Miss Betty.’”

 Fulop’s devotion to service has taken her overseas to work with the poor in Panama twice through Harding spring break campaigns. She will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in general studies but will walk with the Bible Department due to her emphasis in Bible courses. However, the education she has dedicated herself to is not for herself; Fulop says she plans to use her education to serve women who, like herself, are victims of abuse.

 “I decided to go for a B.A. because when I inquired into working at a shelter to help women who have been or are under abuse, I was told I needed a B.A. and could then work as a paraprofessional,” Fulop said. “I want to work with these women in the church and community after graduation.”

 She also plans to publish poetry, devotions, and child and adult fiction after she completes her last semester at Harding.

 “I love Harding and thank God daily — sometimes several times a day — for being here,” Fulop said. “I have gained much peace, a troop of wonderful friends, much needed skills, and more interesting but useful knowledge than my head can hold. To be about to graduate is the most thrilling thing I have ever experienced, as I have never been in cap and gown before. I feel like I did at the age of 7 just before Christmas.”