After emigrating from Ireland, getting married and raising six children, Hanna Lovett, 107, had only one regret — never earning her high school diploma.
But last month, with her family looking on, the Mattituck resident received an honorary diploma during the Mattituck Junior-Senior High School’s graduation ceremony.
“We thought it was appropriate because she’s lived such a full and fascinating life, even though she had to leave school at such a young age,” said the school’s principal, Shawn Petretti, who presented Lovett with the honor on June 24.
Lovett was born in 1910 in a small village on the border of the counties of Cork and Kerry in southwestern Ireland. She left school after completing the eighth grade to help support her family in the lean years following the Irish War of Independence.
Lovett loved to read and can still recite from memory the lengthy poems she learned as a girl, but never got the chance to return to school, her daughter Ann Lovett said.
A couple of months ago, Ann Lovett reached out to Petretti to ask if he’d consider awarding her mother an honorary diploma. She sent him a copy of her mother’s memoir, written by Southold local Sara Bloom, and noted that Lovett as a young woman completed a one-year program in Albany to become a baby nurse, helping care for newborns. Later in life, she studied to work as a home aide.
Petretti was taken by the tale, he said. In the memoir, Bloom details Lovett’s childhood on a small farm with her parents and 10 siblings, the violence she saw during the Irish War of Independence and her journey across the Atlantic.
She wrote about Lovett’s fateful meeting at a New York City dance hall with the handsome man who would become her husband and how they raised their six children together in Brooklyn before settling in Mattituck. Lovett now also has 12 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.
After conferring with the school board and superintendent, Petretti decided to give Lovett an honorary diploma, which he believes is the first ever awarded by the school.
In his address to Mattituck’s graduating class, Petretti spoke about Lovett and the importance of “learning even outside the classroom.”
“Mrs. Lovett has had many adventures, and her experiences have certainly given her a rich education. She has gotten herself in and out of trouble, been resilient when she needed to be, been active in her community and assists those in need,” Petretti told the crowd. “Yes, I do believe she fits right in with the class of 2017.”
Flanked by two of her granddaughters, Lovett stood from her wheelchair to receive the diploma, and was met with applause.
“It’s very good,” Lovett said. “I always wanted to go back to school and get a little more education.”