Skip to content Skip to navigation

Never too late to have a happy commencement

Bonnie Gould received his master's degree in education from Stanford in 1954, but as a busy working father with young children he had no time to mark the occasion. More than a half-century later, he finally had the chance to don a cap and gown and celebrate.

Bonnie Gould (Photo by Norbert von der Groeben)
Bonnie Gould (Photo by Norbert von der Groeben)
Bonnie Gould and his wife of 71 years, Margaret. (Photo by Norbert von der Groeben)
Bonnie Gould and his wife of 71 years, Margaret. (Photo by Norbert von der Groeben)
Bonnie Gould and his family at his home in Union City, Ca. (Photo by Norbert von der Groeben)
Bonnie Gould and his family at his home in Union City, Ca. (Photo by Norbert von der Groeben)

By Grace Chen, MA ’13

For one Stanford graduate, participating in this year's Stanford Commencement marked more than the end of a rigorous course of study: It also resolved 61 years of marital discord.

Bonnie Little Gould was officially conferred his Master's of Arts in Education degree in 1954, but the Stanford graduate student decided not to participate in the commencement ceremony that year. “I just had other things to do,” he recently recalled. (“Bonnie” is his given name, one that is occasionally used for boys.)

At the time Gould and his wife had several children, and he was working at a school district in Redwood City, not far from campus and his home in Palo Alto. While he did not give much thought to the decision, his wife has been mad about it ever since — up until Sunday, June 14. On that day, at age 93, he donned a cap and gown and walked on the stage when his name was called at Stanford Graduate School of Education’s annual diploma ceremony.

It was another page in the 71-year marriage of Bonnie and Margaret, whom everyone calls “Boots,” and it would not have happened without Crystal Gould Sturgis. Last year she wed Cosmo Gould, one of  Bonnie and Boot’s 10 grandchildren; as she learned about her new grandparents, she found herself in awe of them. The Goulds had raised six children, one of whom they adopted, and fostered 17 babies. They have 13 great-grandchildren. Bonnie had spent 35 years working as an educator in the district in which he had started.

When Crystal discovered that Bonnie had not attended his Stanford graduation — and now had regrets — she knew she had to make things right: Earlier this year she contacted the Graduate School of Education to see about the possibility of making her grandfather's dream of finally walking at graduation come true. The school said of course.

Read an overview of the 2015 GSE commencement

Gould was born on Aug. 20, 1921 in Savona, N.Y., and grew up working on the family farm. He received a bachelor’s degree in education in 1943 from Taylor University in Indiana, where he met and fell in love with Boots. She was a freshman, and he was a senior. With the country engaged in World War II, he volunteered for the Navy. The young couple was advised not to marry before being sent overseas, but they chose not to wait.

“They were so in love,” Sturgis said.

“We are still so in love,” said Boots.

Gould had an 18-month stint in the Navy and was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his acts of bravery during the Battle of Okinawa. Gould does not like his granddaughter to make a fuss about it. “He feels that he was fighting for his country, and was doing what every man was doing there, and he hadn't done anything special,” said Sturgis, adding that he thanks God for protecting him throughout all these years.

The young couple settled in Palo Alto. He started working in Redwood City. After the GI Bill went into effect, he thought it made sense to get an advanced degree. The closest school was Stanford.  He dropped by campus and explained he wanted to attend. He was told that classes started on Monday. “So he started Monday!” Sturgis said.

“I absolutely loved every minute of going to Stanford after that,” he told a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle who was writing a story about his return to campus.

The only time Gould felt unwelcome was when a sorority invited him to consider joining because of his first name. He showed up for the first meeting, where they discovered that “Bonnie” is a man. “They wouldn't even let me through the door!” he recounted.

He became an avid Stanford fan, and he and his family attended as many sporting events as possible. He would buy his wife and children tickets to the football games while he worked at the ticket booth. Those who sold tickets were permitted to watch the games for free after half-time, so Gould would join the rest of his family after finishing his shift.

When asked why he chose a career in education, Gould said that his sister was a teacher, and he enjoyed speaking in public. “It seemed to be the thing to do,” he said. Throughout his 35-year career as an educator, he worked as a coach, a physical education teacher, a principal, assistant to the superintendent and superintendent, said Sturgis. He continued teaching bible study classes to senior citizens after his retirement in 1981.

At this year's 124th Stanford Commencement, Gould was a bridge between different eras at Stanford. When he was called to the stage, the hood that signifies his master’s degree was placed over his head by Deborah Stipek, the I. James Quillen Dean at the Graduate School of Education. Quillen became dean in Gould's final year at Stanford.

Gould offered some advice for the new graduates that also spanned the generations. “If you feel there is a need, help,” he said.

After Gould received his hood, he walked off the other side of the stage, and Boots was there to meet him. She was not staying seated in the audience. “I waited long enough!” she said. The two of them embraced, then sat down and held hands. Their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren gathered around them to celebrate.

Grace Chen, the author of this story, is an admissions and academic services specialist at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

Back to the Top