85-year-old Virginia Tech graduate says her love of family and music has helped her succeed

She is going to be the oldest person to earn her Bachelor’s degree in music, Summa Cum Laude, with honors

BLACKSBURG, Va. – A love of learning and a passion for music has pushed one soon-to-be Virginia Tech graduate to more than six decades on a college campus.

Kay Castagnoli has a wealth of knowledge and memories. She started out as a student, then a researcher, then became a professor, then back to a student again. This journey through education has earned her the distinguished title of the oldest individual to earn a Bachelor’s degree at Virginia Tech at the age of 85 and a half years old.

Castagnoli says, “I’ve been told I have to walk across the stage. I’ve been given the ultimatum. So I am going to do that.”

At 85, she is going to be the oldest person to earn her Bachelor’s degree in music, Summa Cum Laude, and not to mention, with honors.

She began taking classes at Virginia Tech in 2007.

“I said I always wanted to go back into the music, which I have been out of for some time. So I got into the music department, and it was very nice. The chair at that time was a woman named Tracy. She looked at me and she gave me some things to work on,” says Castagnoli.

She has been taking all kinds of music classes, from theory to harmony. However, just like every student, she has faced some challenges.

Castagnoli says, “The one class I thought I was always going to fail was we had to sing. We had to get a piece of music printed in front of us and read it off vocally. I thought I would never pass this test.”

But with hard work and a great support system from her family, she overcame.

“I worked, I worked, I worked on doing that so much that so when we had it, I did it and there was a leap that was very difficult and I nailed it. I couldn’t believe it,” says Castagnoli.

The support system of her five children and nine grandchildren has been her rock. However, her biggest supporter of all is her husband. He drives her to class every day so that she can live out her dream.

Castagnoli says, “He keeps me going. I say, ‘I can’t do this,’ and he says ‘Of course, you can do this.’”

Castagnoli says she learned her love for music from her mother. She says she started taking piano classes when she was very young. She and her mother would listen to music programs every Saturday from the met.

“My mother couldn’t even sing a note on key, but she loved music,” says Castagnoli.

She says she is stunned by the recognition she is receiving for just pursuing her passion for learning and music.

Castagnoli says, “Okay, I go to school, I love it. I’m going to school, I do my school. I never ever in my mind would have known it would get to this. Never.”

Her advice to anyone who is thinking about going back to school is just do it. She says you never know unless you try.

Once Kay graduates, she is not done with her education. She plans on taking Italian classes in the future to earn a minor.

About the Author:

Brittany Wier joined the 10 News team as the morning reporter in August 2021.