Black Excellence: This 101-Year-Old Finally Receives High School Diploma 84 Years After Dropping Out

by Duke Magazine

A 101-year-old man recently realized a lifelong desire after receiving honorary high school graduation. He dropped out of high school 84 years ago because his mother couldn’t afford his tuition.

Merrill Pittman Cooper had a distinguished career, according to The Washington Post. He was not just one of Philadelphia’s first Black trolley car drivers, but he was also a formidable union leader. Cooper’s ultimate goal, despite his achievements, was to graduate from high school.

Cooper attended Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, during segregation in the 1930s. Originally, the boarding school was established to educate children who had previously been enslaved. That was following the civil war.

Cooper stated he saw his mother couldn’t generate enough money to pay for his senior year tuition shortly after completing his junior high school year at Storer College. As a result, he stated he chose to drop out of school to assist his mother financially, and he also requested that they relocate to Philadelphia.

“She worked so hard, and it all became so onerous,” he recounted, “that I just thought it was best to stop going to school.”

Cooper started working at an apparel business in Philadelphia to help support his mother. He got a job as a city trolley car operator in 1945. Cooper remarked on the racism he faced at the time, “It was rough when I first started.” “I’d rather not recount some of the things people said to me when they saw me driving the trolley.” To keep the peace, we had to bring in the National Guard.”

Cooper admitted that, while he was happy with his job, his inability to complete high school troubled him. “As time went on, I realized it was probably too late,” Cooper told The Washington Post. “So I put it behind me and made the best of the situation.” “I became so caught up in working and making a life that my dreams vanished,” he continued.

Cooper, on the other hand, just realized a childhood dream after his family surprised him with a graduation ceremony on March 19. Cooper’s son-in-law organized the honorary ceremony in collaboration with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the Jefferson School District.

Cooper, when asked how he felt after learning he would receive honorary high school graduation, stated he was “near the corner from tears.”

He said, “I never believed anything like this could happen.”

“I can’t imagine a better day. Even though it took me a long time to get it, I’m overjoyed to have it now.”

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