Man had to interrupt his studies as a youngster, but at the age of 101 he finally receives his high school diploma
There are those who dream of becoming rich, of having a child or of traveling the world ... and then there are those who dream of receiving a secondary school diploma, after many years of putting it off! Merrill Pittman Cooper is no ordinary student: he is 101 years old and his education stopped many, many years ago. Despite this, the man had always been a good student, albeit a very poor one, since he came from a family of few means where he could only count on economic support from his mother. His challenges in life were significant, but Cooper managed to attend Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, from 1934 to 1938 in still-segregated America. It was during the last year of his studies that he had to abandon his education and move to another city.
Today, after more than 80 years, Mr. Cooper has made his dream come true.
Mr. Cooper is one of the many people who had to interrupt his studies even before finishing them due to economic issues. In the 1930s apartheid America, it wasn't easy being a college-educated African-American, but Mr Cooper's mom went out of her way to give him an education. Although she was a single mother, who worked as a housekeeper, she managed to get her son to study - which he did, studying many subjects such as biology, mathematics, history, English and Latin.
"We didn't have a lot of money, but it was my dream to become a lawyer," recalled Cooper, who also recounted how some of his teachers bought him some new clothes and shoes so he could continue to go to school. "They knew I couldn't afford it, so they took me downtown to buy some essentials, and they told me not to tell the rest of the students." Finally he added: "The school had mostly black teachers and everyone took care of me." During his final year of college, however, Cooper was forced to move to Philadelphia with his mother for financial reasons, thus losing the opportunity to complete his studies.
In the subsequent years, Storer College closed and became part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. This did not stop Cooper's son-in-law from organizing a small ceremony with a pleasant surprise: the "Jefferson County Schools", the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the "Storer College National Alumni Association" and the "West Virginia Department of Education" teamed up to award Mr. Cooper a high school diploma, making his dream come true.
The elderly man did not realise what the meeting was going to be about and thought that perhaps it was going to be some interview about his long life. When he finally realized what was happening, he exploded with joy and donned a graduation tunic with the matching headdress. "I can't remember a happier day," Cooper said.
We are delighted for him!