Vivian Cunningham graduated from Samford University in Alabama with a degree in liberal studies

By Joelle Goldstein
May 13, 2021 10:09 AM
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Vivian Cunningham is a retired worker, mom, grandmother and great-grandmother — and now she's a college graduate!

Cunningham, 78, added another life accomplishment to her list over the weekend when she graduated from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, Today reported.

The great-grandmother spent six years working toward her degree in liberal studies before finally getting to walk across the stage on Saturday and receive her diploma in front of her family, according to the outlet.

"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. "If I could have done cartwheels across the stage, I would have."

Prior to the exciting moment, Cunningham spent 29 years working as a custodian, and later, the head of the mailroom for the Alabama Power Company, according to the outlet.

She retired from the job in 1992 but capitalized on the company's tuition reimbursement program and went on to earn her associate's degree in paralegal studies from Virginia College, Today reported.

With extra time on her hands and her love for learning still present, Cunningham — who has two children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren — told Today that she decided to pursue another degree.

"AARP tells us to take some classes and do something instead of just sitting down and being retired, so I kept going," she explained to the outlet. "I enjoyed being in the classroom."

Cunningham began her journey by taking night classes at Samford University before switching to virtual classes amid the pandemic, according to Today.

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"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.

Along the way, Cunningham told Today that her family — specifically, her daughter Tarra Barnes, son Donald Cunningham and son-in-law, retired Army Col. Rob Barnes — were all very supportive and kept her motivated.

She also credited Samford's Office of Professional Studies director Bryan Gill and associate director Nicole B. Otero for encouraging her and helping her make it to graduate.

"I felt like I wanted to quit at times, but they were behind me 100%," Cunningham told Today. "They kept pushing me."

Added Tarra: "We're so elated. She set a goal, and it took her a little journey to get there, but she finished it. She really has motivated our family."

And that's no exaggeration.

While Cunningham was completing her college degree, she inspired her daughter to also return to school and earn her PhD at North Carolina A&T, the outlet reported.

Tarra previously earned her undergraduate degree at Averett University and a master's degree at Webster University, according to Today. Tarra's son, Jordan, is also pursuing his master's at the University of Miami after graduating from Old Dominion University.

"Education is a big deal in our family," Tarra told Today.

It's not just those two relatives who have been inspired by Cunningham.

"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."

With a college degree now under her belt, Cunningham is considering going further and has her sights set on a master's degree, Today reported.

"I love to read to get more knowledge," she told the outlet. "I really love learning."