More than three decades after completing her final classes at The Ohio State University, Doris Huffman’s academic journey has finally reached its proper end.
During the Dec. 19 autumn commencement ceremony at the Schottenstein Center, Huffman was awarded her master of education degree in agriscience education from the university 34 years after being told she’d come up just short. Accompanied by her granddaughter, Huffman walked across the stage during the ceremony to accept her degree despite back and knee replacement surgeries in her past.
During the ceremony, Huffman even received an indirect shout-out from OSU President Kristina Johnson for showing that it’s never too late to earn a degree.
For Huffman, the decision to pursue higher education so many years ago was never about jobs or money. A wife and stay-at-home mother to her children on their farm near Radnor, a job was the last thing Huffman was interested in seeking.
Contrary to most traditional students, Huffman was simply interested in the educational experience when she began considering taking classes alongside her children at the university. At the urging of her neighbor, who felt Huffman would be able to enjoy the courses for what they taught more than a means to an end, Huffman hopped in the pickup truck with her sons to head to her first class.
Over the course of her time in undergraduate studies at Ohio State, Huffman took classes with each of her sons, as well as her daughter-in-law. Huffman’s daughter refused to take the same classes as her mother, she said. “It grew into a sort of family project,” Huffman told The Gazette.
Huffman graduated with her bachelor’s degree in education in 1982, but her time on campus was just getting started. After taking a year off, she began work on a master’s degree simply because she was intrigued by the appeal of the more in-depth courses found in graduate studies.
“I decided some of the undergrad classes weren’t that fun, and I thought, ‘Gee, I’d like to take some graduate classes because I think I’d like them better,’” she said. “So, I embarked on that. I didn’t have a goal to teach or anything because I had already been teaching 4-H kids in my home for 40 years. I just enjoyed college learning.”
At the time, Huffman was one of the very few women pursuing a degree in agricultural studies, calling herself a “pioneer in a man’s world.” Having grown up working with men around the family farm, however, what was a rarity of the time didn’t seem particularly unusual to her.
“Some of the professors would have been much happier if I had stayed home and baked cookies like I was supposed to, but they got used to me,” Huffman said.
Huffman completed her graduate studies in 1987, concluding her school work and setting herself up to take home a hard-earned master’s degree. Or so she thought, at least.
Just three days prior to commencement, Huffman was informed that she had not met all the necessary requirements and would not be graduating that year. Huffman deemed the situation a “misunderstanding” with the university, but after continuing her education for one more year, left school for good as her responsibilities at home continued to grow.
“I didn’t fight it because I didn’t want to make a fuss,” she said. “I thought that it would never go well for me if I did. So, I took a couple more classes next year and then gave it all up. I wasn’t able to fit my interests into their requirements. I wasn’t doing it to get a job anyways. I just enjoyed the education.”
Decades passed as Huffman moved on with her life, and the degree she never received became an increasingly distant memory. However, through her extensive work with the Ohio State University Extension and various 4-H programs through the years, a recent conversation with someone from Extension led to her academic standing being re-evaluated by the university. After completing one more requirement, Huffman was approved for graduation.
Asked to describe her emotions when she was informed she would graduate with her master’s degree after so much time had passed, Huffman said she’d always known she’d already earned the degree in 1987 but called it a “miracle to me that they gave me the paper.”
On graduation day, while she was excited to finally have her hard work properly validated, Huffman’s excitement paled in comparison to the genuine joy her children expressed towards her accomplishment. “I was more tickled about my children being so happy about the occasion than I was about myself,” she said.
Huffman added, “We bonded together when they were young adults. Rather than them growing up and leaving home, they didn’t do that because we were farming and had the family business. So we became adult best friends, and it was a special experience. It was more than just going to college.”
Huffman went on to say she’s proud and excited to have served as a role model for her children and five grandchildren, all of whom have or will soon graduate from college.
“They had to do it, after all. If this old lady could do it, they certainly can as well,” she said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.