A 97-year-old Michigan woman achieved a lifelong goal last week as she received a high school diploma -- eight decades after family responsibilities forced her to drop out and abandon her education.

Margaret Bekema, 97, got all choked up when she was presented with a school letter and a diploma honoring her as an official Catholic Central High School alumna, class of 1936, Fox 17 reported Friday.

“How can I express myself?” Bekema said through the tears. “I don’t know how to express my thanks.”

As she became more emotional, she said: “I’m sorry. I’m just plain chicken.”

Bekema dropped out of the Grand Rapids school when she was a 17-year-old junior to take care of her mother who had cancer, the station reported. After her mother died she then spent her teen years helping run the household and taking care of her three younger siblings, leaving no time for school.

“She said her heart was broken when she dropped out and today was just a small part to lift that heart,” Catholic Central principal Greg Deja told the station.

Bekema wore a mortar board at the diploma presentation Thursday at the Yorkshire and Stonebridge Manor senior community in the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker before family and friends.

Despite dropping out, she went on to do clerical work for the armed forces and became a preschool teacher, Fox17 reported.

School officials said they just had to give Bekema a diploma after one of her relatives contacted them and told them the story.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.