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Great-Grandmother of Three Earns Bachelor’s Degree and Motivates Her Family to Continue Their Education Too

A 78-year-old great-grandmother of three has proven that it’s never too late to complete a goal, and while doing so even inspire those closest to you in the process.

Vivian Cunningham was “elated” to graduate from Birmingham, Alabama’s Samford University on Saturday, May 8, with her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies after six years of hard work. “Oh I am so excited! It feels good to, you know, have gone through that educational process, she told WVTM 13 just after her graduation. “I am so elated, I feel real good. Very good.”

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

As a single mother of two, the recent grad spent 29 years working at the Alabama Power Company, first as a custodian for 13 years, then head of the mailroom. Sometime after retiring in 1992, Cunningham decided to take advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement program, earning her associate’s degree in paralegal studies from Virginia College.

After some encouragement from AARP, Cunningham decided to continue her education. “AARP tells us to take some classes and do something instead of just sitting down and being retired, so I kept going,” she said.

Cunningham’s daughter Tarra Barnes helped keep her mother motivated on her journey to complete her degree, which consisted of night classes, and in a heartwarming full-circle moment, Barnes was in turn inspired by her mother to further her education.

“I felt like I wanted to quit at times, but they were behind me 100 percent,” Cunningham said of her family’s support. “They kept pushing me.”

Barnes is now pursuing her Ph.D. at North Carolina A&T. Taking a note from his mother and grandmother, Cunningham’s grandson, Jordan, is also now attending the University of Miami to obtain his master’s degree.

“We’re so elated,” Barnes expressed. “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 was my inspiration and motivation for pursuing a Ph.D. 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!”

Graduate Vivian Cunningham celebrates earning her bachelor’s degree. @wvtm13/Instagram

Cunningham might not stop at her bachelor’s degree either. “I might go for the master’s degree,” she said. “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.”

Before she jumps right back into school, however, Cunningham stated that she’s “gonna rest for a while.”

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