Music to her ears

Ithaca College cheers for 86-year-old Guilderland woman receiving her master's

When Beryl Macmillen Anderson cast about in the attic of her Guilderland home for her old master's thesis, her friends and family were shocked to see her pull out a nearly complete document.

After studying for four summers at Ithaca College in the 1950s, Anderson wrote her thesis, save for the bibliography, and simply never finished it.

I thought, 'I'll do this later,' but it never got done, she said. "Other things interfered, like teaching and children and marriage and so forth."

Last month, Anderson, 86, walked across a stage at Ithaca College to thunderous applause to accept her master's degree, 60 years after she started working on it. After pulling that paper out of her attic, she said she received encouragement from family and friends alike to finish it up, even after a 33-year career teaching music in Sullivan County schools.

"One friend said to me, 'you should finish what you start.' And I said, 'well, I didn't think of it that way,'" Anderson said. "I finally called and it was downhill all the way."

When she contacted Ithaca College, her unique inquiry landed on the desk of Keith Kaiser, an associate dean and the school's music education chair. Her call spurred a search for Anderson's academic records, which were located, handwritten, in the school's records vault. In the 1950s, Ithaca College was a different and much smaller school, he explained, located in a few buildings downtown instead of the sweeping hillside campus of today.

Anderson mailed Kaiser her thesis, and he was impressed.

"Her thesis, as far as all of us were concerned, was about 20 years ahead of its time," he said. "It was written in the 1950s, but yet it was talking about topics that in our courses today we're still strongly encouraging our students to think about."

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