85-Year-Old Grandma Finally Able To Graduate High School After Earning An Honorary Diploma

"I’m thankful. I think it’s an honor, and I think it’s a blessing."

Portrait of senior black woman in graduation gown smiling and cheering Rocketclips, Inc. | Shutterstock

An 85-year-old woman finally achieved a long-awaited milestone that she celebrated with her family and loved ones. 

Shirley Smith, a grandmother from Georgia, was never able to finish high school as a teenager but finally got her time to shine shortly after turning 85, and admitted that she was more than delighted at being given a second chance to walk across the graduation stage.

Smith was unable to finish high school after dropping out to help her family.

Smith, who was from Americus, Georgia, but grew up on a tobacco farm in Wilmington, North Carolina, was given her chance at finally receiving her high school diploma 67 years after her original would-be graduation date. Smith ended up dropping out during her sophomore year in 1956 because her father was tasked with the challenge of trying to earn enough money to support his six children as tobacco rates fell.


According to FOX News, Smith and her siblings moved from North Carolina to Somerville, New Jersey. It was there that she made the decision to drop out of school and help her dad with the family's finances.

high school building sshepard / Canva Pro

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"I was going to the 10th grade, and I told him, the biggest mistake that I made, I think, was telling him that I didn’t want to go to school," Smith told FOX News. "And he said, 'Go to work.'"

At first, Smith took a job at a dry cleaner's, then at a pocketbook factory. It wasn't long before Smith got married and started a family of her own, eventually moving to Georgia. 

Smith's educational journey isn't that peculiar, as many adults have not been able to complete high school. According to the 2017 Census Bureau, it was reported that 10% of people aged 25 and older in the United States had not completed high school, which was a decrease of more than one-third from 2000. By 2021, the high school completion rate for this age group had increased to 91.1%.

She was given a ceremony and honorary diploma after the chief of police heard her story.

It was on Smith's 85th birthday that she learned she would soon receive an honorary high school diploma thanks to Eric Finch, chief of police of Montezuma Police Department, for her dedication to her family and support of their education over the years. Tan Galia Robinson, a daughter of Smith, said that Finch, the police chief, was inspired by the heartfelt words spoken at her milestone birthday party. A red velvet cake was shared, and she was admired for her work as a mother and faithful steward.


"He felt like it was robbery to not give her her diploma," Robinson said. Smith, adorned in a purple-and-white dress beneath her gown and black cap, was nervous about the ceremony but was excited and looking forward to the surprises her family had planned for her throughout the day.

@hardknocknews #Georgia Woman, 85, Receives Honorary High School Diploma: 'I’m Really Thankful to God' Georgia Woman, 85, Receives Honorary High School Diploma: 'I’m Really Thankful to God' .She fulfills a lifelong dream, celebrating the milestone with family and friends. #Georgia #WomenEducation #Education #HardKnockNews ♬ original sound - Hard Knock News

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"I’m thankful," Smith told FOX News. "I think it’s an honor and I think it’s a blessing." Despite Smith's own journey with her education, after becoming a mother, and later, grandmother, she encouraged everyone in her family to go to school. In fact, it was more of a requirement than a suggestion.


Smith told the news outlet that education was a priority in her home — and that if her children were going to live under her roof, they would receive an education. Though, according to her, they never seemed to mind. "Matter of fact, they cried to go to school. Even when it was snowing, they wanted to go to school."

silhouette of graduate in cap and gown jamesteohArt / Canva Pro

Now, Smith can smile as she watches her children and grandchildren receive their educations from Texas A&M, Montclair University, California State University, Fullerton, University of Tampa, and University of Mississippi, among other schools.


"My nana never missed a high school or college graduation for any of her children or grandchildren," Brianna Robinson, a granddaughter of Smith’s, told FOX News. "I couldn’t be more honored and inspired. She always taught us to chase our dreams, and all things are possible if you keep faith in God."

Smith's journey was a long one, but in the end, she ended up finally being able to cross that stage and receive her high school diploma. It shows that age truly doesn't matter, not when it comes to milestones and achievements. You're never too old to have goals and dreams, nor are you ever too old to complete them. 

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Nia Tipton is a Chicago-based entertainment, news, and lifestyle writer whose work delves into modern-day issues and experiences.