Heidi Lofgren helped pave the way for thousands of students to get their college degrees for nearly 35 years as a staff member at California State University, Stanislaus, Modesto Junior College and University of California, Berkeley.

Now, the 69-year-old child development major will finally get her own chance to be honored as a graduate at Fresno State’s 108th Commencement on May 18.

“This will be a special, bucket-list moment,” Lofgren said. “My parents (Donner and Charles Hoppen), my husband (Robert Lofgren), my twin brother (Tim Hoppen) and both of my kids (Jamie Lofgren and Kristie Thor) all have gotten their college degrees, and now it’s my turn. It took a little longer than I hoped, but it was well worth the wait.”

Lofgren’s decision to pursue her degree was sparked by a chance encounter while fulfilling a duty that many people try to avoid.

While serving on jury duty in Madera in 2014, she met a fellow juror during an intermission. The juror was a Fresno State employee who told Lofgren about the University’s tuition fee reduction program that costs only $7 per semester for those over age 60.

Then retired and living in Coarsegold, Lofgren enrolled at Fresno State in fall 2015 in the Child and Family Science Department so she could apply the knowledge to her grandchildren and working with youth who need daycare.

“My Fresno State classes have been so amazing, and I can’t thank all of my professors enough for all of their support and advice,” Lofgren said. “My classmates have been equally great and treated me like one of their own. They’ve invited me to sit with them in the student sections at football games and so many other activities.”

Lofgren’s college degree path started after she graduated from Concord High School in Concord in 1969. She earned an associate’s degree in business from Diablo Valley College in 1971.

She got married soon after, and started a full-time job as an administrative assistant at UC Berkeley, where she worked while her husband was in graduate school. They later moved to Modesto to start a family, and she worked part-time at night at Modesto Junior College as a business laboratory assistant. As her children got older, she then worked full-time at CSU Stanislaus for 25 years as an associate administrator and in the financial aid office.

She tried to finish her bachelor’s degree in agricultural studies while she was an employee at CSU Stanislaus. However, she was not able to finish her classwork before she and her husband retired in 2009 and moved to Coarsegold to enjoy life in the Sierra foothills, raise horses and be closer to her two children and four grandchildren.

Even though it is a 70-mile roundtrip drive to class four to five days each week, she has perfect attendance and has assembled an impressive resume.

Besides taking classes full-time, she has worked since last fall with toddlers and preschool children at the Joyce M. Huggins Early Education Center at Fresno State. She has also volunteered for family outreach opportunities with area homeless and at Wesley United Methodist Church, the St. Agnes Holy Cross Center for Women and Valley Children’s Hospital.

These hands-on opportunities have given her a unique reflection on the past four years.

“Learning about all phases of child and family development is critical for our communities and future generations,” Lofgren said. “But the extra bonus has been being around so many wonderful fellow Fresno State students. They have given me so much energy and support. We’re like a family, and we’re all here to support each other to get a college degree to help make our life dreams a reality.”