In 1916, when Mildred Quox was 11 and had been taking piano lessons for nearly three years, her father died. To help support her family, she gave up her music lessons and began working as a domestic in her native Worchester, Mass.
Two years later, her mother died.
It wasn't until 1945, three years after she moved to Washington, that Quox finally bought the piano she had dreamed of owning since childhood.
Quox is now 76, and last weekend another long-cherished dream came true for her. She received her first academic degree, an associate of arts in music, from Prince George's Community College. She was also the oldest of nearly 1,000 graduates honored at the commencement ceremony on the college's Largo campus.
Commencement cermonies last week also honored 950 graduates of Montgomery College and 400 graduates of Bowie State College.
Quox, who lives in Boulevard Heights, studied part time for five years to earn her diploma. She says, "I'd probably be dead before I got my B.A., but I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do next . . . I'll probably take one course."
Like many of last week's graduates, it wasn't until she had taken a couple of courses that Quox realized how little she really knew about her major subject.
"I realized how much I hadn't had after I took a class in harmony theory, and after about 11 credits I thought 'oh, go on and finish,'" she explained.
She also learned that students share a comradeship at any age.
When a neighbor told her that the Prince George's college offered course for senior citizens, Quox recalled saying, ". . . Oh, no. All those young people make fun of old women like me." But, she says now, "they were beautiful. When we had to have groups, they'd always pick me . . . they acted just like we were the same age."
Quox worked for the Bureau of Printing and Engraving and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for 31 years, retiring in 1973. She now has 15 piano students and stays busy with her daughter, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, all of whom live in the Washington area.
At Prince George's Community College the commencement speaker was David Johnson, a chemist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. He is laboratory chief for NIH's Chemistry Section on Micro-Analytical Services and Instrumentation.
Bowie State commencement speaker Leon Sullivan is founder and chairman of the Opportunities Industralization Centers of America (OIC), an organization that sponsors job-training programs in communities.
Washington Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam, author of "Paul Robeson: All American," was the guest speaker at Montgomery College's largest graduation ceremony, at the Rockville campus. Ceremonies also took place on the Takoma Park and Germantown campuses.
Presidential scholar awards, established by Montgomery College to recognize academic excellence as well as community service were presented to Susan Freidkin, 31, of Rockville, Phillip Adams, 20, of Washington Grove, and Mary Lou Gray, of Gaithersburg.
Freidkin, mother of three, maintained a 4.0 grade-point average while earning her degree in nursing. She works fulltime as a nursing assistant at Holy Cross Hospital, is active in B'nai Israel and Women's ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation and Training) and has tutored several of her classmates.
Adams, a physical-education graduate, was captain of the varsity tennis team and manager of the varsity basketball and baseball teams at Montgomery College. He also worked with young children as a day camp counselor at Bar-T Camp in Laytonsville, has been in church plays and sings with a barbershop quartet.
Gray is an undergraduate majoring in general education.
A mother-daughter team received degrees simultaneously at Bowie State College when Edna Pinkney was granted a B.S. in psychology and her daughter Sabrina received a B.S. in mathematics last week.
The most unusual group of graduates, however, was composed of Pat Biro, 49, of Silver Spring, and her three daughters. All four women received diplomas from area colleges this spring.
Pat received a master's in nursing from Catholic University; Kathy Biro Hay, 24, of Kensington, received an Associate of Arts in general studies from Montgomery College; Ruth Biro, 23, of Hyattsville, earned a B.S. in medical illustration from the University of Maryland and Ann Biro, 21, who in D.C. received a B.S. in nursing from Georgetown University.
Said Kathy Biro Hay, "Over the last two years we've all been studying so much that our family get-togethers have been more like family study-togethers . . . We've stayed up all night studying many times. My father would go out and get the coffee and do the dishes for us . . . he would also play the piano to help keep us awake."