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Over 50 Years Later, This 83-Year-Old Woman Finally Earned Her High School Diploma

Before Willie Dell Grimes became the mother of 12, grandmother of 25, great-grandmother of 26, and great-great-grandmother of two, the 83-year-old had dreams of becoming a school teacher.

That was in the early 1940s. Grimes, who grew up in rural South Carolina,had to put her education on hold after seventh grade because the nearest school was nine miles away, and she couldn’t afford to commute to school.

Over 50 years later, Grimes is the proud recipient of a high school diploma, which she earned from W.R. Rogers Adult Education Center in Richland 2 last month, The State, a local South Carolina paper, reports

“She’s a model example of lifelong learning,” Bobby Cunningham, the school’s principal, told The State.

Take Action :Children Around The World Deserve To Go To School

Grimes signed up for her first night class in 1993, shortly after her husband’s death.

“I had to start with the basics,” she said.

After 46 years, her favorite subject was still math, her worst, spelling. She excelled at social studies, which earned her a class award.

After she completed all of her classroom requirements in 1999, Grimes earned a certificate from the high school. Because she didn’t take the school’s exit exam, however, she had yet to earn her diploma, which she was always after.

That day would come more than 20 years later when the South Carolina General Assembly passed Act 155, which allowed individuals who did not receive a high school diploma to file a petition with their school board to receive one. Now, she’s a “Cavalier” — the high school’s mascot.

“I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be a dropout twice,” she said.

Read More: The World Receives an 'F' for Global Education as Millions of Children Are Still Out of School

Even today, many around the world face the same circumstances that Willie Dell faced when she was only a child.

Nearly 123 million children between 6-15 will not return to school this year, according to a new report from the UN Children’s Fund. Around 20% of those children live in conflict zones where going to school could be a matter of life and death.

Global Citizen campaigns on helping those children stay in school, so they don’t miss out on critical learning opportunities. You can take action here.

All along the way, Grimes’ children encouraged her.

“We all backed her up, 100 percent,” Willie Dell’s daughter and educator, Susie Grimes, said. “We said, ‘You always pushed us to go. Now it’s our turn to help you.’”

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In her lifetime, Grimes has inspired 10 of her children to graduate from high school and pursue a higher education. Some went on to become firefighters, nurses and paramedics. Others took on horticulture, entrepreneurship and counseling.

“That made me feel good,” she said. “Made me feel like I was doing a mother’s duty.”

To her classmates, Grimes served as an example by encouraging them and reminding them that their education was a “good opportunity,” the school’s principal said.

“I was very proud,” Grimes, who celebrates her 84th birthday this month, said. “That was the main goal; I wanted to get my diploma.”