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Great-grandmother earns a college degree at 78: 'I love learning. I don’t want to stop.'

Vivian Cunningham completed her college diploma in liberal studies at the university in Birmingham, Alabama.

Great-grandmother earns a college degree at 78: 'I love learning. I don’t want to stop.'
Image source: Instagram/samfordu

It's never too late to achieve your dreams, as Vivian Cunningham proved after the 78-year-old great-grandmother graduated from Samford University. It was her lifelong dream and she proved age was no barrier to learning or achieving your dreams. "If I could have done cartwheels across the stage, I would have," said Cunningham, recalling the moment she received her college diploma in liberal studies, reported TODAY. Cunningham is a mother to two children, a grandmother of three, and a great-grandmother of three. She spent six years with students half her age or younger, to get her degree at the university in Birmingham, Alabama. "I enjoyed being in the classroom," said the great-grandmother.


Cunningham is also hoping her story inspires others to pursue their dreams. "I say follow your dreams, don't let anyone tell you it can't be done, keep pushing and keep God in the plan," said the 78-year-old. "My friends have called and told me that it has motivated them. And some of the young ones in my family, too. They said if I can do it, they can do it," she added.

Cunningham retired from Alabama Power Company after working there for 29 years. She worked as a custodian and went onto become the head of the mailroom at the company, before retiring in 1992. She used the company's tuition reimbursement program to earn an associate degree in paralegal studies from Virginia College. "AARP tells us to take some classes and do something instead of just sitting down and being retired, so I kept going," said the 78-year-old. She then pursued the college diploma at the university in Birmingham.

The 78-year-old admitted she had thoughts of quitting the course but added that it was her loved ones who pushed her to complete her college diploma. She credited her daughter Tarra Barnes, son Donald Cunningham, her son-in-law, retired Army Colonel Rob Barnes, Samford Office of Professional Studies director Bryan Gill, and associate director Nicole B. Otero for helping her pursue and graduate. Her family was at the graduation ceremony to support her as she received her diploma in liberal studies. "I felt like I wanted to quit at times, but they were behind me 100%," said Cunningham, before adding that her family pushed her to complete the diploma course.

Vivian Cunningham/Samford University

Another hurdle for Cunningham was the technological gap. She wasn't too good with technology but the Coronavirus pandemic forced classes to go offline, which forced her to learn virtually. "It was kind of hectic for me because I didn't know too much about technology, so I had to have my daughter help me with that to learn to do it virtually," said Cunningham.

The 78-year-old's daughter said she was happy for her mother. "We're so elated. She set a goal, and it took her a little journey to get there, but she finished it. She really has motivated our family," said Tarra Barnes. The great-grandmother has certainly inspired the family with Tarra Barnes pursuing her Ph.D. at North Carolina A&T. Jordan, Tarra's son, is doing a master's degree program at the University of Miami. Barnes added that education is a "big deal" in their family. The 78-year-old has no intentions of stopping and wants to do her master's degree as well. "I love to read to get more knowledge. I really love learning. I don’t want to stop. I love to read, I love to sew, I love to watch movies. I don’t want to just sit because I’m retired. I want the knowledge," she said, reported Fox 5.



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