Our elders keep on showing up and showing out, and one 89-year-old mother of 12 did just that over the weekend after becoming the oldest graduate to cross the stage at Liberty University’s commencement in Lynchburg, Va.
According to the school’s website, Ella Washington was so focused on raising her children and putting them through school that she put her own education on the back burner. In fact, Washington, who grew up on a farm in North Carolina during the 1930s, had dropped out of school in the sixth grade. But she never forgot her commitment to and her passion for learning, which she instilled in her children.
“She has always been a lifelong learner,” Washington’s daughter Ellen Mitchell told the news station. “Her desire for learning and for pursuing an education became a family tradition. 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.”
Washington moved to the nation’s capital as a young mother, holding a variety of jobs, including being a custodian at the Pentagon, an office assistant and a certified nursing assistant at an adult day care, continuing to work until about six years ago.
“Coming to D.C., there weren’t many opportunities for a poorly educated black woman,” Mitchell said. “But she worked hard doing whatever she could to make sure we were taken care of.”
It wasn’t until 1978 that Washington earned her GED diploma at the age of 49. Then, with her daughter’s encouragement, she enrolled in the online learning program at Liberty in 2012, from which she graduated with her associate degree in interdisciplinary studies.
But even at 89, Washington has no plans to slow down, now working toward her 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.”
“My mother is a remarkable woman,” Mitchell said. “I learned how to be strong because of her example. Now she has set the bar for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Believe me, she’s setting the bar for all of us.
“Education will help you make the best life for yourselves and those who come after you,” Washington said.
I hear you, Mama Ella. May we all be as ambitious and resilient.