It was an out-of-the-ordinary Mother’s Day for Lucy Capers this year. Instead of gathering as usual with her large family, the 79-year-old mother, grandmother and great grandmother was busy at the third of three University of Maryland University College (UMUC) stateside commencement ceremonies held over the weekend.
On May 14, Capers walked across the stage to receive her Bachelor of Science degree in computer studies—no small feat for a woman whose first encounter with education was a black-only primary school in racially segregated Alabama.
As a youngster growing up in poverty, Capers had an interest and penchant for fixing things. In school, math was her favorite subject. “I was always eager to learn more,” Capers said. “If somebody brought a newspaper in, for example, I wanted to read it.”
At age 18, she married. Her husband joined the military and the couple traveled before settling in Maryland 30 years ago and raising three children. She said she hopes her UMUC degree will stand as an example to her many great-grandchildren and step-great-grandchildren.
In her late 20s, Capers began a career marked by assignments at the Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce and other federal agencies. With each job came more exposure to technology.
“Every time my organization upgraded, sometimes more than once a year, they asked for volunteers to travel … to learn how to use the new technology,” Capers said. “Most other people didn’t want to go so I would volunteer for the training—wherever it was in the country—and then come back and teach everybody else how to use it.
“I started in computers when it was keypunch,” she noted.
The thirst for new knowledge didn’t stop when Capers retired in 2002 from the Department of Defense. She thought about looking for a part-time job, but a friend suggested that as a senior citizen she might qualify for financial assistance if she enrolled at college. Her friend was right.
In 2004, Capers began studying at Prince George’s Community College, where she was only required to pay for registration and books. She received two associate’s degrees, one in general studies and the other in computer science. But her goal was a four-year degree, so Capers headed to UMUC. She took one or more classes a term for nine years, only missing class during one semester when her husband’s health declined.
He did not live long enough to see her complete the degree. He died in 2015.
“I think she’ll end up with the highest grade in my class,” said Adjunct Professor Nina Mendez, who taught one of Capers’ last online courses before graduation, the social sciences elective,"Alcohol in U.S. Society." Mendez described Capers as a “present, intuitive and passionate student” who routinely exceeded the course requirements.
“She submitted all her work on time, and her writing has been great,” she said.
When asked why she invested so many years in a degree, Capers’ answer is simple. “Basically, I always wanted an education,” she said. “And the more you learn, the more you open up to new things and look at the world in a different way.”
That doesn’t mean Capers is finished. “If the university pays for master’s degrees for seniors, I may try for that,” Capers said, “but in something different. Maybe sociology or psychology.”