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Canton octogenarian attends college with great-grandchildren

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CANTON — Myrtle A. Butterfield is halfway through her bucket list.

The 83-year-old Canton resident will graduate from SUNY Canton with an associate degree in liberal arts this fall, fulfilling a lifelong goal.

“When people asked me why I did it, I say because I never did,” she said. “I love learning. I just love it.”

Ms. Butterfield wasn’t alone at SUNY Canton, with two great-grandchildren attending school with her.

Her great-grandson Carter K. Cutway was a business management student this spring, and a great-granddaughter, Jamie L. Butterfield, is in the criminal justice program.

“Who else can say they went to college with their great-grandmother?” Mr. Cutway said.

Ms. Butterfield has four living children, 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

“I am a great-great-grandmother, too; I have a 2-year-old,” she said. “I also have stepchildren and -grandchildren.”

Her college graduation will come more than 65 years after her high school graduation in 1947. She was unable to attend college because she married and started her family soon after high school.

“Work and family came first,” she said.

When not studying or spending time with her expansive family, Ms. Butterfield volunteers at NYSARC in Canton.

“I like to read and I like to do crosswords and I like to talk. I like to be busy,” she said.

The Canton native has spent most of her life in the north country.

“I love my hometown, I just love it,” she said. “I started out in a one-room school house, so this is a big change for me.”

Thanks to federal student loans, Ms. Butterfield will graduate after five semesters at SUNY Canton.

“I will be in debt when I’m done. I will be paying it off for some time, but when I graduated from high school, those loans weren’t available,” she said. “I am grateful for the opportunity.”

She plans to walk across the stage in May to receive her degree.

“I’m not going to miss that,” she said. “I have all of these honors to wear.”

She has been inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa and Chi Alpha Epsilon honor society chapters at SUNY Canton after carrying a 3.75 grade-point average. She has also made the university’s president’s list, achieving a 4.0 average in two of her semesters.

Ms. Butterfield said her favorite classes were in history and writing.

“My least was math. I can’t stand it,” she said.

After some exposure in classes this spring, she has started writing poetry.

“I had never written a poem until spring this year, and it is weird; I can’t stop,” she said. “As soon as I get done with this semester I’m hoping to get published.”

SUNY Canton Vice President for Student Affairs Molly A. Mott said Ms. Butterfield’s presence enriched campus.

“It is a great story,” she said. “Can you imagine being in a history class with her? She can say ‘I was there,’ when students are learning.”

As a nontraditional student, Ms. Butterfield may turn a few heads on campus, but she said she was never made to feel unwelcome.

“It is just an open, friendly campus,” she said. “I got a positive reception from everyone.”

Ms. Butterfield is fighting vision loss, so she relied on support services to help her take notes and a tutor to help keep her grades up.

“SUNY Canton has such wonderful, accommodative services,” she said. “I had tutoring for accounting; I got front-seat seating; I had a note taker. I am doing fine with their help.”

Now, Ms. Butterfield may complete a four-year degree — or she may try to pursue the remaining item on her bucket list, a trip to Ireland.

“I might not get to Ireland,” she said. “That takes a lot of money.”

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