ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In 1965, Luci Baines Johnson had to make a decision that would determine the rest of her life - marry the man she loved or pursue her passion to become a nurse. She was 19 years old, the daughter of President Lyndon Johnson. Georgetown's nursing school did not allow married students, so Luci Baines Johnson decided to leave school, get married and raise a family, a decision that gnawed at her for decades. On Saturday, more than half a century later, Luci Baines Johnson delivered the commencement address at Georgetown School of Nursing and Health Studies and she accepted an honorary doctorate.
She joins us now from her home in Austin, Texas. Welcome and congratulations.
LUCI BAINES JOHNSON: Oh, thank you very much, Ari. I feel a bit like the crystal carriage has turned into a pumpkin this morning.
SHAPIRO: You mean because you're back home after a whirlwind weekend?
JOHNSON: Oh, because I'm back home with the real world. But for about 72 hours, I lived in magic of the moment.
SHAPIRO: Take us back to the 1960s when you were a nursing student. I understand this was not an unusual rule back then. But why would a school like Georgetown forbid students from being married?
JOHNSON: Well, let's not - this was more the tradition. By and large, I think the sense was that nursing was very much a vocation as well as a profession and to clutter it up with the family responsibilities would be more than they wanted their student body to have to embrace. But they shortly rescinded that rule. But while I was there, the rule was in force.
SHAPIRO: Did any of the students graduating over the weekend reflect to you on the rules that you lived with when you were a student there in the 1960s and how outdated they seemed?
JOHNSON: Well, I think they looked at me very much as a dinosaur. Teasing, they referred to it as the no M days - no marriage, no males. And of course, the times they were changing was a refrain that was very much a part of everybody's musical...
JOHNSON: ...Experience in the '60s. And they were a time of great change. And the whole idea that you getting married would prevent you from continuing nursing, it seems to be very remote, as frankly does the desire to get married early.
SHAPIRO: Could you take us to that moment at Georgetown on Saturday when you heard your name and they conferred the degree, more than 50 years after you had left the nursing program the first time. What did that feel like?
JOHNSON: Well, there certainly were tears in my eyes and a sense of could this really be me? My first words to the graduates were if I looked like a child on Christmas morning, that's because the way I feel. It was a thrilling experience beyond words. I felt a little bit like the prodigal child who left for love and was being welcomed back in love. And it meant the world to me.
SHAPIRO: Well, Luci Baines Johnson, thanks so much for speaking with us today.
JOHNSON: Thank you. It was my joy to share my story.
SHAPIRO: Luci Baines Johnson is, as of this past Saturday, a Doctor of Humane Letters. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.