75 years later, 92-year-old ‘officially’ gets Union College degree

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BARBOURVILLE, Ky. (WTVQ/Union College Public Affairs) – In the fall of 1945, Opal Clark Tye became a member of the bulldog family at Union College.

Now, 75 years later, she is now a member of the alumni association.

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“By the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees of Union College, I now convey upon you the degree, Bachelor of Science in General Studies, with all the rights and privileges pertaining there to.”

On Wednesday, Union College President Marica Hawkins conferred Tye’s degree virtually. Tye, dressed in the college’s cap and gown, was all smiles as her diploma was already displayed on the wall in her room at Christian Care Communities in Corbin.

This spring, as many people were hunkered down in their homes amidst a worldwide pandemic, Hawkins heard Tye’s story for the first time and after a little digging, discovered she was eligible for a Union College degree.

“I am so happy to be able to do this and I just thank your family, especially your granddaughter for bringing to our attention that you had enough credits to graduate,” Hawkins said to Tye.

Tye, then Opal Clark, lost her parents at a very young age. She was taken in at the Methodist Home for Children of Cedartown, an orphanage in Georgia.

During her senior year of high school, the orphanage had a special guest visit, Dr. Conway Boatman, president of Union College.

“He asked them who was athletic and smart because Union could offer them scholarships to attend. My granny said she raised her hand high,” said Joslyn Flynn, Tye’s granddaughter.

At 17 years old, Tye attended on a full scholarship. She shined on campus, both academically and athletically as a cheerleader. It was at Union where she met Herman Mitchell Tye, the two married in 1949 and she never completed her degree.

Time marched on and life continued, Tye raised a beautiful family and was a prominent figure in the local community.  s life continued, degrees and requirements at Union College changed.

“When her granddaughter came and prompted us to start looking, we found out she had plenty of credits to graduate with a general studies degree but back at that time,we didn’t have general studies,” said Hawkins.

Three quarters of a century in the making, the orphan from Georgia finally checks all the boxes and is a Union College graduate.