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75-year-old Newman student overcomes algebra, lost language to graduate

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) - Five years ago on New Year's Day, Mary Short's husband asked his wife if there was anything in life that she wanted or had not done. Short had two answers: she wanted grandchildren and she wanted a college education.

"He told me he couldn't help me with grandchildren but he could help me get through school," Short said.

Short began classes at Butler Community College and eventually transferred to Newman University to study interdisciplinary studies with a minor in Spanish. The interdisciplinary studies major allowed her to use previous experience including her chartered life underwriter (CLU) certification from a past job to get college credit.

Short retaught herself how to study but still had one obstacle.

"My only problem was algebra and I thought, if I don't graduate from college, it's going to be because of this algebra," Short laughed.

One of Short's two daughters is an algebra teacher at Wichita East High School. She helped her mother through a semester and Short passed with a B.

The minor in Spanish also comes from her past. 

Short says she was the only Mexican child in her Kindergarten class and in a time of blatant racism, classmates and her teacher made fun of her broken English.

"The kids laughed and the teacher laughed because I couldn't make myself really understood and it was really a traumatic experience, more traumatic than I really thought. So I told my parents never to speak to me in Spanish again," Short said.

Short decided a minor in Spanish could help her communicate with people in her community in need of resources or translation. Her professor Sonja Bontrager urged Short to go on a mission trip with Newman students to Guatemala to build restrooms for families living in the Guatemalan mountains and to teach English.

Initially, the thought intimidated and even caused Short to chuckle: working alongside students one-fourth of her age for two months. But she agreed and it was there, in a foreign country that she honed her Spanish.

"That just really helped me tremendously. So much just came back naturally with the families," Short said.

On Saturday, Short will walk across the stage at Newman University to get her college diploma, a lifelong dream come true.

"You have to have self-worth, you have to believe in yourself and you know in your heart you can do it, you just have to apply yourself," Short said.

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