Vivian Cunningham was a single mother of two in the 1960s who worked as a custodian and then in the mailroom at the Alabama Power Company. She retired in 1992 and began attending Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. After six years, the mother of two, grandmother of three and great-grandmother of three has completed her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies.
The 78-year-old graduated from Samford University on May 8. “If I could have done cartwheels across the stage, I would have,” Cunningham told TODAY.
The Alabama Power Company, where Cunningham worked, had a tuition reimbursement program that she used to earn her associate degree in paralegal studies from Virginia College. The strong advocate for education then decided to further her education and fulfill her lifelong dream of having a bachelor’s degree to her name.
“I say follow your dreams, don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done, keep pushing and keep God in the plan,” Cunningham told TODAY.
According to her, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) encourages retirees to stay active by any means and since she took pride in learning, she went on to spend most days in-class learning. When things got tough, her two children, Tarra Barnes and Donald Cunningham, and son-in-law Army Col. Rob Barnes, were by her side motivating her not to give up, she said.
“I felt like I wanted to quit at times, but they were behind me 100%,” she said. “They kept pushing me.” “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,” she recalled of remote learning when COVID made it impossible for in-person classes to continue.
Barnes spoke very highly of her mother’s achievement and how it motivated her to pursue her doctorate at the North Carolina A&T. Barnes’ own son, Jordan, is also pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Miami.
The 78-year-old graduate’s friends and other relatives have also been motivated to further their education, and she could not be happier. “My friends have called and told me that it has motivated them,” Cunningham explained to TODAY. “And some of the young ones in my family, too. They said if I can do it, they can do it.”
Cunningham intends on using her “free” time to pursue a master’s degree because acquiring more knowledge is something she truly loves.
Walking across the stage during her graduation ceremony, Cunningham admits she could not have come this far without the help of Samford’s Office of Professional Studies director Bryan Gill and associate director Nicole B. Otero, People reported.
“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.”