Georgia woman, 85, graduates from high school with honorary diploma: ‘I’m really thankful to God’

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An 85-year-old Georgia woman graduated from high school on Saturday — 67 years after her original would-be graduation date — in front of her family and the community she steadily serves.

Shirley Smith of Americus was shocked to find out on her 85th birthday that she would soon receive an honorary high school diploma thanks to Eric Finch, chief of police of Montezuma Police Department, for her dedication to her family and unabated support of their education over the years.

“I’m thankful,” Smith told Fox News Digital in a video interview. “I think it’s an honor and I think it’s a blessing.”

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Smith grew up on a tobacco farm in Wilmington, North Carolina. In 1956, her father was pressed with the challenge of earning more in order to raise his six children after tobacco rates fell. 

Smith and her siblings were then uprooted to Somerville, New Jersey.

“I was going to the 10th grade, and I told him, the biggest mistake that I made, I think, was telling him that I didn’t want to go to school,” Smith said. “And he said, ‘Go to work.’”

First, she took a job at a dry cleaner’s, then at a pocketbook factory. 

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Shortly thereafter, she got married and started a family of her own, later moving them to Georgia.

Though she considered vocational school a few times, her goals of caring for her children and raising her family took precedence over a degree, she said. 

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Smith said education was a priority in her home, however — and that if her children were going to live under her roof, they would receive an education.

They didn’t seem to mind.

“Matter of fact, they cried to go to school. Even when it was snowing, they wanted to go to school,” she said.

Today, Smith is beaming with pride that she’s watched her children and grandchildren receive their educations from Texas A&M, Montclair University, California State University, Fullerton, University of Tampa and University of Mississippi, among other schools.

Her family is equally proud of her for her lifetime of accomplishments — and feels she is more than deserving of the honor.

“My nana never missed a high school or college graduation for any of her children or grandchildren,” Brianna Robinson of Tampa, Florida — a granddaughter of Smith’s — told Fox News Digital. 

“I couldn’t be more honored and inspired. She always taught us to chase our dreams, and all things are possible if you keep faith in God.”

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Smith, a dedicated churchgoer, has spent decades as a faithful Baptist working in and around her communities as a missionary where she was committed to caring for the sick and poor.

“I had family members that encouraged me to trust God,” Smith said. 

She added that her family never went without shelter, food and clothing.

“We always had decent places to stay, and I just held onto my faith.”

Smith credits God for her diploma as she believes His plan and work through others is the reason those who have experience versus education still have the ability to be rewarded for their tireless efforts in life.

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“I’m really appreciative, and I’m really thankful to God,” she said. “I always try to figure out, What do people see in me? I draw people, no matter what color they are, who they are — I just draw people.”

Tan Galia Robinson of California, a daughter of Smith, said that Finch, the police chief, was inspired by the heartfelt words spoken at her milestone birthday party. A red velvet cake was shared and she was admired for her work as a mother and faithful steward.

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“He felt like it was robbery to not give her her diploma,” Robinson said.

Smith, though nervous, was excited about wearing a purple-and-white dress beneath her black cap and gown and looked forward to the surprises her family had planned for her throughout the day.

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In regard to next steps and the prospect of college, Smith laughed that she is instead preparing to meet her maker.

“I’m getting ready to go to heaven, that’s what I’m getting ready to do,” she said with a smile.

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“I’m going to get my reward from him,” she told Fox News Digital. 

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