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Degree was a class away for 90-year-old grad

In April, Ruth Wing celebrated her 90th birthday. On Sunday she graduated from St. Petersburg College.

"She was probably our oldest," said Willie Felton, vice president of education and student services.

Dressed in black cap and gown, Wing was the first graduate to receive her associate's diploma.

Before graduates began to cross the stage at the Mahaffey Theater, administrator Thomas Furlong left the stage to present Wing with her diploma at her seat.

The crowd gave her a standing ovation.

"I think it's great," said her husband, Carlton Wing, 84. "She waited for a long time for it."

According to Felton, Mrs. Wing began taking classes at the college in 1969. In 1989 she met an insurmountable obstacle _ Mathematics 1107. It was a liberal arts mathematics course that she could not complete.

So a woman who spent years as librarian, who loves to read books and always made her six children "go look it up," had to give up.

Mrs. Wing had laid the idea to rest but her daughter Polly McIntyre, of St. Petersburg, would not let it sleep. She remembered that her mother had taken some courses and wanted to know what happened to them.

She called the college.

Felton said, "Her daughter described her mother's desire to receive a degree and said she had always valued education."

He researched and said a substitution policy would allow Mrs. Wing to switch some of her other credits for the math course and receive a diploma.

"I think it was just a wonderful way to recognize her persistence and her success," said Felton.

"She's been absolutely up in the air," said Mr. Wing.

"It's very exciting," she said.

The event was a nice turn amid recent tough times. In January Mrs. Wing and her husband had to give up their home in Seminole and move into Cypress Palms, an assisted living facility in Largo.

Mrs. Wing had a stroke in December, and Mr. Wing has cancer.

Five of her children attended the graduation.

"It was great," said her son Pete Cranfield of Clearwater. "She never thought it would happen."

McIntyre said her mother wanted to wear the cap and gown home. They all celebrated with a chocolate cake, pizza and wings.

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