Seventy-six-year-old Shirley Fuller is the first in her family to graduate with a four-year college degree.
ABC-11 in Durham, NC, reports Fuller walked the stage during North Carolina Central University’s (NCCU) commencement ceremony to earn her bachelor’s degree in behavioral and social sciences.
“Praise the Lord,” Fuller told ABC-11. “It means everything to me. Because my children know I’m not a quitter!”
The feat comes six years after she obtained an associate’s degree from Wake Technical Community College, which was soon followed by a huge stumbling block that could have caused her to close the doors on her educational pursuits all together.
In 2018, her apartment building was destroyed in an accidental fire, causing her to lose almost everything. Despite the tragedy, only one thing survived and became a symbol for her to persevere, she says.
“I lost everything I owned, except one object. And that was my textbook from Wake Tech,” Fuller said, according to ABC-11. “And I said to God, ‘there is a reason that this textbook survived this fire.'”
She added, “I struggled. I grieved. I cried. I raised hell with myself when I needed to. But we don’t know what steps God has for us.”
Fuller overcame the odds following the aftermath of her destroyed apartment. Called “Grandma Shirley” by her fellow students, she would later earn a second degree from Wake Tech before being admitted to NCCU.
Looking ahead, Fuller wants to be a beacon of hope. She is a survivor of drug addiction, depression, and sexual assault, and hopes to use her degree to the benefit of others by opening a non-profit recovery facility to support women who struggle with addiction.
“I want to help other women who I know have been through worse situations than I did,” Fuller explained to ABC-11.
Additionally, Fuller plans to establish her recovery facility while simultaneously obtaining a master’s degree in public administration.