Old and young graduates share the stage

Last Thursday, 89-year-old Betty Reilly and 17-year-old Denise Kutnick graduated from FAU with a 72-year age difference.


Max Jackson | Staff Photographer

Brittany Ferrendi, Contributing Writer

Across Florida Atlantic’s Carol and Barry Kaye Auditorium stage walked two of FAU’s most out-of-the-ordinary graduates — 17-year-old Denise Kutnick and 89-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Reilly.

Kutnick was a part of FAU High School, allowing her to take college credits through a dual enrollment program. She began in fall 2013, taking an average of 18 credits per semester. Kutnick was a math tutor and part of the university’s Supplemental Instruction, or SI, programs in trigonometry.

Despite her knack for math, Kutnick said her biggest challenge was writing. “The history and writing classes were the toughest for me,” she said. “I spent hours going to office hours to get feedback on my writing.”

Now a college graduate, Kutnick has a lot to look forward to — specifically, a job opportunity with Intel. “While I was an intern over the summer, I was given the offer by Intel. I decided to take the offer because I’ve had a very positive experience working at Intel, and I know that I will continue to grow with this work experience.”

Kutnick’s story is not uncommon; the FAU High program allows many students to dual enroll with college, which means they can graduate high school and college simultaneously. One of the youngest FAU graduates is Grace Bush, who graduated college at age 16 in 2014 before finishing high school.

Joining Kutnick is another recent FAU graduate, Elizabeth “Betty” Reilly. At 89 years old, Reilly achieved her bachelor’s degree in english on Thursday in order to open up her job prospects.

According to the Sun Sentinel, Reilly got very sick from eating raw clams and had to quit high school, losing her scholarships in the process. Although she recovered, she didn’t decide to return to school until 2005, where she began a journey to get her GED diploma.

At 80 years old, she passed her GED test in 2007. From there, she earned an associate’s degree from Broward College in 2011 and went to FAU to pursue a degree in english.

Reilly is one of a handful of graduates within her age range. Florida Atlantic University’s oldest graduate was Mark A. Rickets, who attained his bachelor’s degree at 91 years old in 1992.

Although 17-year-old Kutnick has never personally met Reilly, she holds a lot of admiration for her. “I really respect Betty Reilly,” she said. “It is so much harder for someone who has been out of school to make the lifestyle changes and take the time to go back to school. I have not personally contacted her but I have read her story, and I admire her motivation.”

Brittany Ferrendi is a contributing writer for the University Press. If you would like to contact her regarding this or other articles, email her at [email protected].