It was a long journey for North Philadelphia native Betty Williams, but the day has finally come — the 69-year-old grandmother, affectionately known as “the Beyonce of night school,” has received her high school diploma after 51 years of waiting.
“I hope my story helps someone that is afraid or thinks they are too old to go back to school and receive their diploma,” Williams said while standing before a cheering crowd at the graduation ceremony. “I’m here to tell you that you can do it. I did it and so can you.”
The former Kensington High School student returned to the Philadelphia School District nearly five decades later as part of the district’s adult diploma program.
Williams, the oldest graduate in the program’s history, was invited to speak during Friday’s graduation at Temple University’s Center for Performing Arts.
“Life gets the best of you and life is never easy. If I can do it at 69 anyone can do it,” Williams said, standing to a long round of applause and some screams of, “you got this,” from fellow graduates.
Williams dropped out of school after giving birth to her two children as a teenager. She said it was her kids, who also quit school after having children as teenagers and then went back to complete their diplomas before ultimately pursuing even higher education, that inspired her to go back to finish her high school degree.
“Time got away from me, but it did not get the best of me,” she said. “I look at my children as a proud mother of their accomplishments and they are my motivator. They are the reason I am standing here today at 69 years old finally graduated with my high school diploma and on my way to community college.”
Williams now plans to attend Community College of Philadelphia in the fall. She said she hopes her story inspires others to pursue their dreams and that you are never too old to go back to school.
“Generational curse, what? Generational curse broken!” she chanted as she walked off the graduation stage.
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