Woman who dropped out of middle school decades ago ends up being oldest grad in her college

June 27, 2018 5:47 pm Last Updated: June 27, 2018 5:47 pm

These days, education means everything. If you want to get a good job and earn a decent salary, you need to get good grades in school before going on to a college or university. Yet, 80 years ago, things were quite different.

Back in the 1930s, the rural United States valued farm work over education. That’s why Ella Washington dropped out of school in the sixth grade.

After that, she had always wanted to go back and get an education, though she was always tied down with children. Yet now, she’s finally able to pursue the education she had always wanted.

After dropping out of school in sixth grade, Ella Washington always wanted to go back and earn an education.

Washington spent the remainder of her childhood working as a farm hand in a small town in North Carolina. Once she grew up, she married and had kids pretty much right away. She had 12 kids, which kept her busy for a long time.

While looking after her kids, she couldn’t pursue further education. Still, she wanted to make sure that they at least had the best education possible. Before her kids even started school, she taught them many important life skills.

“Her desire for learning and for pursuing an education became a family tradition,” Washington’s daughter, Ellen Mitchell, told Liberty University. “She taught all of her children how to read, write, and do math prior to their beginning school, just as her grandmother taught her and her siblings.”

In the 1970s, Washington finally got her chance to pursue further education. She enrolled in an adult education program and earned a GED diploma in 1978 at age 49. While this was a major step forward, she still wanted to go to college.

After earning her GED, Washington pursued college. She enrolled at Liberty University at age 83 and graduated at 89.

Posted by Liberty University Online Programs on Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mitchell recommended that her mother enroll in Liberty University’s online program. So, in 2012, she did just that. She was 83 at the time, far older than the rest of Liberty’s students. Still she was determined to see it through until the end.

In May 2018, she walked across the stage at Liberty University’s Commencement in Virginia. She earned her associate degree in interdisciplinary studies. At 89 years old, she was the oldest graduate in her class. Mitchell was incredibly proud.

“My mother is a remarkable woman,” she said. “I learned how to be strong because of her example. Now, she has set the bar for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Despite this incredible achievement, Washington has decided to keep pushing herself further. She is already working toward a bachelor’s degree in history.

“To me, history is a great subject,” she said. “Everybody should know their history and learn more about it. A lot of people don’t know much about history. There’s nothing wrong with learning more.”

It makes sense that someone who has lived through so much would want to study history. It also makes sense that Washington’s age would bring with it great wisdom. Her advice to fellow graduates was to use their education to the fullest.

“Education will help you make the best life for yourselves and those who come after you,” she said.