Vivian Cunningham, who is a 78-year old great-grandmother of three, has earned her undergraduate degree in liberal studies at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. “If I could have done cartwheels across the stage, I would have,” she told Today.
Cunningham, who is a single mother of 2, grandmother of 3, and great-grandmother of 3, spent 6 years before earning her degree. Prior to that, she worked at the Alabama Power Company for 19 years as a custodian and eventually as the head of the mailroom.
When she retired in 1992, she took the opportunity offered by the company through its tuition reimbursement program. She attended Virginia College where she received her associate’s degree in paralegal studies.
Instead of stopping there, Cunningham decided to continue college. She took night classes until she had to shift to virtual classes due to the pandemic, and worked hard until she finally had enough credits to graduate.
“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 said.
Cunningham is thankful for her family, specifically her daughter Tarra Barnes, son Donald Cunningham, and son-in-law retired Army Col. Rob Barnes, for keeping her motivated despite the moments when she almost wanted to quit.
She is also grateful for the support she received from Samford’s Office of Professional Studies director Bryan Gill and associate director Nicole B. Otero.
Moreover, Cunningham’s story also inspired other people to pursue education. Her daughter returned to school to earn her Ph.D. and her grandson also pursued his master’s due to her encouragement.
Now, Cunningham also considers continuing her studies and earn a master’s degree.
“I love to read to get more knowledge. I really love learning,” she said.