It’s Never Too Late! 83-Year-Old Gets High School Diploma

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Never say never. That’s the theme of 83-year-old Wille Dell Grimes’ life.

Growing up in rural Poplar Grove, the closest school after Willie Dell seventh grade year was nine miles away in Bamberg, S.C. This made it very difficult for Grimes to complete school in the 1940’s and ended up not finishing. At the age of 17, she was married to Jack E. Grimes and went on to have 12 children – five boys and seven girls. Two children died at the young ages of 3 and 5. She lost an adult son, age 64, on March 30 of this year.

After spending over 30 years raising children, Grimes’ children and grandchildren encouraged her to return to school. In 1993, Mrs. Grimes returned to night school where she shared classes with kids who were young enough to be her own children. Her family was in full support of her dream and she excelled in many areas.

In 1999, she had successfully completed all classes required for a high school degree, but never got her Diploma because of a South Carolina law. The law required her to pass a state certified mandatory test. Well, until South Carolina passed Act 155.

In 2014, the South Carolina General Assembly passed Act 155, which eliminated the exit exam and allowed individuals who did not receive a high school diploma because they did not pass the exam, to file a petition with their local school board for a diploma.

Richland District 2 helped Willie Dell with the process of applying for her high school diploma via Act 155.

After the application was accepted, Willie Dell finally received her high school diploma at a Richland District 2 board meeting last month. This time she wore a Richland Northeast High cap and gown.

“She’s a model example of lifelong learning,” says Bobby Cunningham, principal of the W.R. Rogers Adult Education Center in Richland 2. “She makes Richland 2 proud to have been a part of her story.”

Willie Dell credits her children as the ones who started this educational journey for her. Her ten children graduated high school and went on to higher education. Her children became military members, a horticulturist, a firefighter/paramedic, ministers, nurses, counselors, business owner, financial manager, an industrial personnel administrator and an educator.

Her grandchildren – she has 25, along with 26 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren – followed in the footsteps of their parents who were dedicated to getting a great education. Willie Dell made sure of that, and she is very proud of all of her generations.

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This journey back to school all started with the words, “I’m going to help her.” Those were the words of Susie Grimes, Willie Dell’s daughter. “We all backed her up, 100 percent. We said, “You always pushed us to go. Now it’s our turn to help you. We all got together and encouraged her to do it … including the grandkids.”

As the educator in the family, Susie knew how very different things were going to be for her mother in the 1990s, versus in the 1940s. “But she was determined.”

So Willie Dell started night classes in 1993.

“I had to start with the basics,” Willie Dell says. Her favorite subject was still math.

“I’ve never seen someone who could add up fractions in her head like her, and reduce them even with uncommon denominators,” Susie says.

She undoubtedly was good at social studies too – she got a class award for that.

Even though her worst subject was “Spelling,” Willie Dell said she wouldn’t let that get to her.

“I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be a dropout twice,” Willie Dell says. “At recess, they all went out and would take a break, and I would sit there and get my work done.”