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Great-Grandmother Receives College Degree At 78-Years-Old

Great-Grandmother Receives College Degree At 78-Years-Old

She’s proof that it’s never too late!

A great-grandmother just received her college degree from Samford University at the age of 78, reports.

Vivian Cunningham is a mother of two, a grandmother of three, and a great-grandmother of three. She spent nearly three decades working as a janitor before becoming head of the mailroom for the Alabama Power Company. In 1992, she retired, utilizing the company’s tuition reimbursement program to get her associate degree in paralegal studies from Virginia College. Six years ago, she decided to return to school, pursuing a liberal studies degree at Samford University. Now, she has graduated at 78-years-old. 

“If I could have done cartwheels across the stage, I would have,” Cunningham told reporters.  

While it was a journey for her, she even wanted to give up at times, having to make the change to remote learning during the pandemic, yet she persevered. 

“I enjoyed being in the classroom. It was kind of hectic for me [switching to virtual learning] 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,” Cunningham said. 

She credits her children, Tarra Barnes and Donald Cunningham, and her son-in-law, retired Army Col. Rob Barnes, with keeping her motivated throughout her journey. She also received support from Samford Office of Professional Studies director Bryan Gill and associate director Nicole B. Otero. Cunningham says she wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. 

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Douglas/Samford University

“I felt like I wanted to quit at times, but they were behind me 100%. They kept pushing me...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 said. 

Tarra spoke about her mother’s significant milestone, saying, “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.” 

She’s motivated them so much that Tarra has decided to return to school to pursue her Ph.D. at North Carolina A&T. Her son Jordan is currently pursuing his master’s at the University of Miami. 

Cunningham’s family was front and center as she walked across the stage. Despite the great accomplishment, this may not be the end of the academic road for the great-grandma, who says she’s also thinking about continuing on to pursue her master’s degree. 

“AARP tells us to take some classes and do something instead of just sitting down and being retired, so I kept going...I love to read to get more knowledge. I really love learning...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 Cunningham.

Congratulations, Mother Vivian!! Because of you, we can!

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Douglas/Samford University