101-Year-Old Man Receives High School Diploma More Than 80 Years Later

A 101-year-old man has proven that it’s never too late to achieve your goals.

Merrill Pittman Cooper was a senior at Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia when his family moved to Philadelphia to seek better financial opportunities. Even though Cooper had a long career in transportation, he regretted not finishing high school.

A recent trip to Cooper’s old school triggered his memory.

Merrill Pittman Cooper has been awarded an honorary diploma at 101 years old. (Photo/Jefferson County Schools)

Storer College was one of the first schools established for newly freed enslaved African-Americans at the end of the Civil War. When it opened in 1867, Storer College reportedly offered a high school program, elementary teacher training program, junior college program and separate homemaking and agriculture courses.

It served more than 7,000 students, including jazz legend Don Redman and Nigeria’s first president, Nnamdi Azikiwe, before closing in 1955. While at Storer, Cooper studied Latin, biology, history, English and mathematics.

Cooper’s mother, a live-in housekeeper, couldn’t afford to make the final tuition payment for his senior year.

“She worked so hard, and it all became so difficult that I just decided it would be best to give up continuing at the school,” he told The Washington Post.

Once in Philadelphia, Cooper got a job at a women’s apparel store to help pay the bills. He was hired in 1945 as a city trolley car operator, he said.

Cooper expressed his regret about not obtaining his diploma during a tour at the now historic site in 2018. Storer is now part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

“As time went on, I thought it was probably too late, so I put it behind me and made the best of the situation,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s family reached out to park staff, and through a collaborative effort with the local school district Storer College National Alumni Association and West Virginia Department of Education, Cooper was honored with his high school diploma at a special ceremony on March 19.

“Jefferson County Schools is committed to helping every student, young or old, fulfill their dreams,” Jefferson County Schools superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson-Learn said in a statement. “For Mr. Cooper, that meant receiving a high school diploma. We are honored to help make that dream a reality.”

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