Great-grandmother, 72, to graduate from Cal State L.A. Tomorrow

June 9, 2006

Alhambra’'s Durban isn'’t done yet; next step is a master'’s degree

Los Angeles, CA -- At 72 years old, Mary Helen Durban will be the first family member in her generation to graduate from college when she receives a bachelor's degree in liberal studies as the most "senior" senior to march in Cal State L.A.'s Undergraduate Commencement this Saturday, June 10, 2006.

An Alhambra resident, Durban was born and raised in Monterey Park, Calif. She recalls, I saw Cal State L.A. being built when the construction work began in 1947.

After earning her high school diploma from then-Ramona Convent in Alhambra in June 1952, she did not continue with school because, she says, "Back then, girls only went to college if they wanted to become a nurse or a nun." She adds, "I got married after high school and wanted to be a stay-at-home mom."

Over the years she devoted most of her time to taking care of her family, which now includes two children, six grandchildren and two great-granddaughters. Durban and her late husband, Joseph, enjoyed traveling in Europe. (Mr. Durban was a detective sergeant for the Monterey Park Police Department.)

After her husband died, she started to explore new pastimes and activities. In her late 60s, she enrolled in Pasadena City College to take courses in German and English, and she eventually earned an associate of arts degree. She came to Cal State L.A. in 2003 to pursue a bachelor's degree in liberal studies.

I am going to work on a master's degree in education or English next, she says. I enjoy the college experience even though it's quite a challenge. My two granddaughters are teachers, and they cheer me on. They say,"You can do it, grandmother!"

Durban hopes to use her degree to educate teachers on how to teach students who are burn victims; and she, too, plans to teach children who are burned or injured and can't go to school. A burn survivor herself, she is a volunteer for Firefighters Quest for Burn Survivors, a nonprofit organization that seeks to raise money for burn survivors and their families.

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* Cal State L.A.’s 59th Commencement also includes 17-year-old Joanne Lee, the University’s youngest graduating senior this year.


Working for California since 1947: The 175-acre hilltop campus of California State University, Los Angeles is at the heart of a major metropolitan city, just five miles from Los Angeles' civic and cultural center. More than 20,000 students and 185,000 alumni with a wide variety of interests, ages and backgrounds--reflect the city's dynamic mix of populations. Six colleges offer nationally recognized science, arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and humanities programs, among others, led by an award-winning faculty. Cal State L.A. is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Jazz Orchestra and to a unique university center for gifted students as young as 12. Among programs that provide exciting enrichment opportunities to students and community include an NEH- and Rockefeller-supported humanities center; a NASA-funded center for space research; and a growing forensic science program, to be housed in the Los Angeles Regional Crime Lab now under construction.