At 77, Sue Ent is old enough to be the University of Washington’s designated Class of ‘95 grandma.
Except that during the June 10 morning graduation ceremony, the Spokane Valley woman will be one of the kids wearing a cap and gown.
Sue should be the featured speaker.
This seasoned senior could give her classmates a cram course in guts, determination and the timeless value of an education.
Being a college dropout was a sore spot for Sue. So much so that she promised herself there’d be a day when she would crack open the textbooks and earn that elusive sheepskin.
She never dreamed that day would take 56 years to arrive.
“I like to finish what I start. I make commitments,” says Sue, a small, articulate woman with short gray hair and intelligent blue eyes.
University of Washington commencement officials are hard-pressed to recall an older grad.
“It’s very, very rare, let’s face it,” says Kathy Davis, of the office of public exercises. “She’s a wonderful example. To go back to school after that much time, well, you can imagine how things have changed.”
Sue will accept her diploma exactly one century after her father, William Hartwell, earned a college degree from the University of Wisconsin.
In honor of her parents, William and Laura, Sue will graduate using her Hartwell maiden name. “My father and mother believed in the value of education,” she says. “We grew up always knowing we would go to college.”
Sue is from Colville. Her father, an independent lumberman, was mayor of the town and served in the Washington state Senate. When she graduated from high school, William was on the school board. “He handed me my diploma,” she says.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out the way the two Hartwell kids planned.
Sue’s older brother, William Jr., started at the UW, but dropped out to elope with a classmate. He died in his 40s, never completing his course work.
Money was the obstacle for Sue. In 1939, just a quarter shy of finishing, the economic burden became too great. Sue left school, disappointed, but not without hope.
She married Sam Ent in 1941 and got on with life, working at Spokane’s old Crescent department store.
In some ways, she says, being a college old-timer has advantages. “I absorbed a lot more than if I were a teenager or in my 20s.”
Sue may have never made the effort were it not for her loving niece, Susanne Hartwell, and Susanne’s husband, Peter Nordberg. These two unraveled all the red tape to make Sue’s comeback possible.
Peter spent hours on the telephone throughout 1992, wrangling with university officials. Sue’s transcripts were unearthed from the bowels of university files. Agreement had to be reached on what courses she needed to graduate.
That Sue had completed all the required credits for her French major was a real stroke of luck. Imagine facing advanced French classes after a six-decade hiatus?
Sue needed 31 credits to graduate. She could take them long distance, via telecourse: American civilization, sociology, geology, humanities…. No basket weaving for this woman.
Sue began her return in 1993. She was so afraid of failure she didn’t tell anyone, including her husband, until completing her first quarter.
“When I stood in line to buy my books, I looked at all of those kids and thought, ‘What am I doing here?”’
Then her first report card arrived. Sue walked down the long driveway to the mailbox, queasy with nervous anticipation.
She opened the envelope. Great grades.
Sue smiled and said to herself, “I’m gonna go for the gold.”