News Story

Karen Franklin (C’23) Graduates 45 Years After Leaving the Hilltop

In 1978, Karen Franklin left the Hilltop with a transcript reflecting four years of hard work. She was three courses shy of a bachelor’s degree and planned to work for a few years before returning to school to finish her degree. 

On May 20, 45 years after she last left Georgetown, Franklin walked across the stage in front of Healy Hall and became an official alumna of the Georgetown University College of Arts & Sciences. 

“If I could do cartwheels, I would,” said Franklin. “I’m over the moon – it’s always been my dream to finish school.”

Breaking Barriers

A woman in academic regalia smiles.

Franklin waiting to receive her diploma.

A native Washingtonian, Franklin has been breaking barriers from a young age. She received a scholarship to attend St. Agnes Episcopal High School, then a finishing school for young women in Virginia. At the time, schools in the South had just begun desegregation and Franklin was the second Black graduate in the school’s history. 

A National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist, Franklin applied to Georgetown in 1973 because of her interest in politics and history. She originally pursued an interdisciplinary major in urban studies, which required coursework in economics, history and geography that all coalesced around urban life. After a disagreement with her adviser on the format of her thesis, Franklin switched majors to economics, which left her short on her requirements by the end of her senior year. 

“It was a fiasco. I hadn’t yet passed statistics and ran out of time to complete the other classes that I needed,” said Franklin. “Because of my age, I was about to be kicked off my mother’s health insurance plan and took a job at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where I had interned.”

For the next 38 years, Franklin worked as a courtroom clerk, married the love of her life, had kids, eventually became a grandmother and was active in her community. But in the back of her mind, Franklin always knew that she wanted to finish school. 

Going Back to School

A woman with short black hair wears academic regalia. The photo is in sepia tones with small marks indicating its age.

Karen Franklin’s graduation photo from 1978. Small marks on the photo appear from discoloration.

After retiring from her job seven years ago, Franklin began to seriously consider going back to school. She was inspired by her sister-in-law, who went back to school after working full-time.

“I thought, if she can work and do it, then I can do it when I retire,” she said. “Let me tell you, it’s not been easy.”

To finish her degree, Franklin switched majors from economics to sociology. Since Franklin completed the lion’s share of her coursework at Georgetown, she was able to complete her degree with two online classes at the University of Maryland and one in-person class at the school’s campus in College Park. Throughout these classes, including one particularly difficult statistics course, she has relied on family and friends to help her grapple with the academic demands. 

“I have a young cousin who is good at statistics so she tutored me in my class,” said Franklin. “I did not think I was going to make it through – there were a few times I told her not to come and she’d say, ‘No cousin Karen, I’m coming over and we’re going to do this.’”

In the final class that she’s completing on sociological theory, her nephew has helped her. The readings, especially from thinkers like W.E.B. Du Bois, have sated Franklin’s appetite for more. She has excelled in the course, maintaining a grade point average above 96% while more than two dozen students half her age have dropped the course. 

A Family Celebration 

A family stands under the shade of a tree and smiles.

Karen Franklin and her family after the graduation ceremony.

At commencement, Franklin was joined by her friends and family, including her husband of 40 years, Guy Franklin, her two children and two grandchildren. Franklin’s sister, Shawyn Patterson-Howard, came down from Mount Vernon, New York, where she serves as mayor of the city. Patterson-Howard is the president of the African American Mayors Association. 

“Everyone is very excited and very proud,” said Franklin. “I’m glad my grandkids got to see me walk across the stage and get my diploma.”

Franklin herself is beaming with pride, sharing the news far and wide. 

“I tell everyone that I talk to that I’m graduating,” said Franklin. “When I called T-Mobile last week, I had a long conversation about my graduation. I’ve made it.”

After graduating, Franklin will celebrate with her extended family and friends. She plans to stay active. Already a pillar of her community, Franklin has served two terms on the alumni board of her high school and is the president of her neighborhood association. 

“I’d been such a blessing to have so much love and support from my community,” said Franklin. “I don’t take that for granted.”

-by Hayden Frye (C’17)