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100-year-old woman receives honorary high school diploma

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Here’s a great example of the old phrase “better late than never.” More than 80 years after her family left the country, forcing her to leave high school, a Rhode Island woman has received an honorary high school diploma from the school she regretted never returning to.

Mary Moniz of East Providence, Rhode Island received the diploma over the weekend but it’s been quite the eventful week because Moniz celebrated her 100th birthday on Monday, which was also the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.

The daughter of immigrants from the Azores, a group of islands in Portugal, Moniz was born in Fall River, Massachusetts and later began attending B.M.C. Durfee High School. When the Great Depression hit, however, her family decided to return to the Azorean island of São Miguel, forcing Moniz to leave after her second year at the school and dashing her hopes of becoming a history teacher.

Moniz returned to the United States in 1949 with her own family and settled in East Providence, located about 15 minutes away from Fall River. According to Fall River’s Herald News, Richard Moniz, the youngest of her three children, wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education commissioner in May asking if giving his mother an honorary diploma for her 100th birthday was doable.

“One of the major regrets of Mrs. Moniz’s life has been that she was never able to complete her high school education,” he wrote.

The commission delivered on the request and Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown arrived in East Providence on Saturday to hand-deliver the diploma, along with a citation from Fall River’s mayor.

“She waited for that all of her life,” Mary Porto, the eldest of Moniz’s children, said.

Mrs. Moniz, a lifelong lover of learning, shared some other tidbits from her school days with the Herald, such as reciting the Gettysburg address from memory in the fifth grade (she still remembers a few lines), sewing her own dress for eighth-grade graduation, and serving as an English-to-Portuguese translator at home for her family.

The new centenarian has four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, whom she reminds of the importance of learning “all the time.”

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