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Lifelong learning: Stanford GSE student collects her master’s degree after 80 years in education

Virginia Hislop beams at the GSE's 2024 commencement ceremony after accepting her master's of arts in education on Sunday, June 16.
Virginia Hislop beams at the GSE's 2024 commencement ceremony after accepting her master of arts in education on Sunday, June 16. (Photo: Charles Russo)

Lifelong learning: Stanford GSE student collects her master’s degree after 80 years in education

Virginia Hislop receives a master’s degree in the 2024 diploma ceremony at the age of 105.

It’s been a minute since Virginia “Ginger” Hislop was a student at Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE).

When she started at the GSE in 1936 — then the Stanford University School of Education — her plan was to get her bachelor’s of education, which she did in 1940, and obtain her master’s of education so she could teach, which she started directly after.

The goal: to help grow and provide opportunities for young minds by following in the footsteps of her grandmother, who taught in Kansas before the Civil War, and her Aunt Nora, who was the principal of a school in West Los Angeles, and pursue the field of education.

However, just after completing her coursework and just before turning in her final thesis, her then-boyfriend George Hislop AB ’41, a GSE student in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), got called in to serve during World War II, prompting the pair to get married and Virginia Hislop to leave campus before graduating.

“I thought it was one of the things I could pick up along the way if I needed it and I always enjoyed studying, so that wasn’t really a great concern to me — and getting married was,” said Hislop, who was born in Palo Alto and resides in Yakima, Washington.

Now, 83 years after leaving campus and living in service to learning, Hislop returned to Stanford  to finish what she started and receive her graduate degree.

“A fierce advocate for equity and the opportunity to learn … today we are proud to confer the master of arts in education to our 105 year-old graduate,” GSE Dean Daniel Schwartz said in a speech at the beginning of the GSE’s commencement ceremony on Sunday, June 16.

Virginia Hislop (right) accepts her diploma for her master of arts in education at the GSE’s 2024 commencement ceremony.

Virginia Hislop (right) accepts her diploma for her master of arts in education at the GSE’s 2024 commencement ceremony from Dean Dan Schwartz. She collects her degree after more than 80 years doing education work in schools and on school boards in Yakima, Washington. (Photo: Charles Russo)

Family ties to Stanford 

In many ways, Hislop’s work in education after leaving Stanford began with her children.

When her daughter Anne started first grade in Washington, Hislop advocated on her behalf so that she could take advanced English, rather than a home economics course being suggested by the school.

“I felt that she could learn to cook at home and it was more important that she learn more academic skills at school,” said Hislop, whose daughter Anne Hislop Jensen MA ’68 and son-in-law Doug Jensen, MA ’68, also graduated from the GSE.

After that first encounter, Hislop was moved to join the school board to have more of a say in what children were being taught, to help set them up for success.

“I felt that all the kids should have an opportunity to develop their potential as best they could, and that everybody should have a crack at higher education if they wanted,” said Hislop,  who stayed on the school board for 13 years before moving her involvement to the city, county and state level in Washington state.

Some of her roles included chairing the Yakima School Board of Directors; becoming a founding member of the board of directors for Yakima Community College, and helping to start Heritage University in Toppenish, Washington, where she served on the board for 20 years.

“I’ve been doing this work for years and it’s nice to be recognized with this degree,” she said.

Leadership and longevity in learning

Nowadays, Hislop spends most of her time doing community work, reading, socializing and working in her garden — a routine she says has kept her sharp.

“The biggest lesson I’ve taken from her is that you never really stop learning,” said Doug Jensen, “She’s a voracious reader, and at 105 she’s still actively moving and shaking. No moss grows under her feet.”

Looking back on her career, Hislop credits her time at Stanford and the things she’s learned from community partners along the way for her ability to impact students.

“I think I did good things for our local school system and I helped broaden it out,” she said. “For me, this degree is an appreciation of the many years I’ve put in working for the schools in the Yakima area and on different boards.”

At the GSE Diploma ceremony, Schwartz concurred, saying Hislop “led a life of tremendous educational accomplishment.” Her fellow graduates and their families gave her a standing ovation. 

When Hislop rose from her seat, donned in cap and gown, to walk across the stage and receive her master’s hood, the applause roared once again. She greeted Schwartz on stage and was handed her diploma. She smiled for the cameras. Her grandkids and great-grandkids waved and cheered. 

“My goodness,” Hislop said. “I’ve waited a long time for this.”

Faculty mentioned in this article: Dan Schwartz

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