By AARON GETTINGER
A 90-year-old grandmother of 16 and great-grandmother of six, June Patinkin, received her bachelor’s degree diploma in political science from the University of Chicago during its 531st Convocation ceremony Saturday. She has not been a full-time student at the U. of C. since the 1940s.
A native of Hyde Park, Patinkin was a student at the Lab Schools when she began taking permitted college classes in the fall of 1944. She transferred to Northwestern University two years later and returned to the U. of C. two years after that. Patinkin served as political editor of The Chicago Maroon, the U. of C. student newspaper, working alongside future Hyde Park Herald and Washington Post reporter David Broder.
“It was really the highlight of my life,” she said in an interview with the Herald. “The U. of C. is a wonderful, wonderful institution.” Patinkin said the political climate on campus when she was a student, at the height of the Red Scare, was similar to the current mood. The times also allowed her to take classes from 1940s emigre political scientists like Herman Finer and Hans Morgenthau.
“I can still hear him speaking when he was giving his lectures to our relatively small class, maybe 20 people,” Patinkin said of Morgenthau. “That was really something for a kid like me. I guess I was about 16, 17 at the time, and to have the privilege of being taught by some of these professors—it was a really amazing thing.”
Patinkin left the U. of C. in the late 1940s to travel around Europe, where she was at one point questioned by the Hungarian secret police across the burgeoning Iron Curtain. She lived for a time in Paris, where she worked writing press reports for the Marshall Plan—a job she attributes to her time at U. of C. —and married her late husband, Harold.
They later returned to Chicago and started a family in the early 1950s, living in South Shore. Patinkin took classes at the U. of C. in hopes of completing her degree, but five sons got in the way—and the University did not accept her credits from Northwestern.
“I thought it was time already,” she said. “I spent a lot of time, then I sort of got distracted because of a family. All of the sudden I realized, ‘Hey, I put a lot of time into this. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a diploma like my kids do?’”
Patinkin’s family then resubmitted her academic record and paper transcripts to the University registrar, who confirmed her qualification for a bachelor’s degree. According to available U. of C. records, she is now the oldest graduate from the College by two years. She received her diploma in cap and gown June 9, and plans to hang it so that it will be the first thing people see when they walk into her assisted living apartment in Lincoln Park.
Patinkin confirmed to the Herald that she has no plans to pursue graduate school but that her adult children are encouraging her to get a job with her degree. After 70 years, Patinkin is just glad to finally have the diploma. “I’m not complaining about it, because it was a wonderful opportunity at a great program,” she said.