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Bowman native crosses USC graduation stage at 71, earns master's degree

Leroy Harley decided to follow his passion at 69 and went back to school

BOWMAN, S.C. — Leroy Harley is a 71-year-old resident of Bowman who decided at 69 to peruse education as a new career choice. 

Following many years of moving and trying out different career paths, he thinks he has found his passion. 

"I really am proud of myself, I mean I have to be," he said. 

Harley crossed the stage at the University of South Carolina on Saturday afternoon completing his master's degree in teaching. 

"Anything that was new and interesting, I became interested in it," Harley said.

He came back to Bowman after moving around several times back in 1993. After spending time with his mother, she told him he should look into working at the school, so he did apply to Bethune-Bowman Elementary School where he was originally hired as a teacher's aide. 

"I immediately got interested in teaching. Like I say, if it's something new, I am going to try it and see where it takes me," he said. 

The path would lead him back to college to pursue a teaching degree. 

"I thought, 'Why am I going back to school at this age? I should be sorta coasting into retirement,'' he said. "But I went on and did it anyhow."

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A degree, he says, was hard but was made possible by hard work and support from his family - especially people like his sister Patsy Rhett. 

"I am elated at the fact that Lee, after all these years, decided to follow his heart," she said. "He has. Education has always been a strong part of his life." 

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Harley has one final message to anyone who is considering changing careers. 

"I say go ahead and do it, I mean, because ... you bring a lot to the table, OK?" he said. "There's a lot you have to learn at the table but you bring a lot to the table." 

Harley plans on teaching for the next few years and has not decided when he wants to retire. 

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