At 80, Annette Robinson graduates with honors from Penn State Abington

The word “impossible” is not in Annette Robinson’s vocabulary, but “perseverance,” “can-do” and “inspire”? Now those are words that personify her. Robinson, 80, recently donned a cap and gown and accepted her 30-years-in-the-making bachelor of arts degree from Penn State Abington on May 13.

“Annette calls herself Eliza Doolittle and calls me Professor Henry Higgins, as in the play 'My Fair Lady,' because she sees herself as starting at Penn State Abington from scratch and ending up an educated lady like Eliza,” said Moylan C. Mills, professor emeritus of integrative arts and Robinson’s adviser.

Robinson, like the character Eliza Doolittle, followed a difficult path to reach her goal and she did it with personality and determination. Having contracted polio as a young girl, as well as dealing with the blows of two cancer diagnoses and the trauma of a debilitating car accident, Robinson stayed the course to commencement day. She maneuvered around the hilly wooded Abington campus in her tricked-out van and wheelchair. “A beloved figure on campus,” according to Mills, “the students know her. She’s popular and outspoken; independent.”

Robinson successfully battled breast cancer years ago, but she learned last June that she has ovarian cancer. Although she delayed graduation for six months as she dealt with the side effects of chemotherapy, Robinson finally told her doctors that the cancer would just have to wait until she earned her much-deserved degree.

“I have the kind of cancer that will not go away,” said Robinson. “What pulled me through -- because I was so ill -- I kept saying ‘I have to graduate…I’m so close.’ Knowing that I wanted to graduate made me want to fight so hard.”

Her smiling face was seen on campus again this spring as she finished up her last credits and ultimately shook hands with Chancellor Karen Wiley Sandler on commencement day.

“If I were younger I would go for a master’s,” said Robinson. “I’d like to still come back and audit classes…I just love this campus.”

Robinson has been married for nearly 60 years to Sidney J. Robinson, raised two college graduates and now has a granddaughter to fill the position of “apple of her eye.”

Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.