78-Year-Old College Grad Finally Fulfills Lifelong Dream

·2 min read

Hers wasn't a traditional path, but now at the age of 78, Vivian Cunningham is finally a college graduate.

Cunningham graduated from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 8 with a bachelor's degree in liberal studies.

"I was amazed. I really felt great," she told ABC News. "The only thing I can say is I was just elated. It feels good to be, you know, have gone through that educational process."

A single mom of two in the 1960s, Cunningham worked as a custodian and then in the mailroom at the Alabama Power Company. She took advantage of the company's Tuition Reimbursement Program to earn credits from Birmingham-area colleges and universities over the decades, sometimes pausing her education for years at a time.

Vivian Cunningham at graduation Samford University
Vivian Cunningham at graduation Samford University

Stephanie Douglas/Samford University

"It was tough for her, but us being young, we didn't really know," Cunningham's son Donald said in an interview for Samford University's website. "She was taking care of her family, working at night at the power company, and couldn't find babysitters to keep us, so I had to grow up and be a man before time, take care of my sister."

Cunningham retired in 1992 but continued taking classes simply because she loves to learn. It took her six years to complete her degree at Samford.

"She was my inspiration and motivation for pursuing a Ph.D.," her daughter Tarra Barnes said. "If she can complete her bachelor's degree at 78 years old, then why wouldn't I continue my higher educational journey? I wholeheartedly appreciate her strength and influence on my life, and I am extremely proud of her!"

Vivan Cunningham receives diploma Samford University
Vivan Cunningham receives diploma Samford University

Stephanie Douglas/Samford University

With her hard-earned bachelor's degree in hand, Cunningham said she doesn't plan to stop here. The great-grandmother might even pursue a master's degree.

"Believe in yourself, because you can do it," she said. "Keep God in the plan and you'll make it. Don't let anybody discourage you."

Congratulations Miss Vivian!