Better late than never and Merrill Pittman Cooper is living proof.

Walking the earth for over a century, Cooper has experienced various facets of life — from the historic lows of the 1930s and the Civil Rights era to the first Black president of the United States of America.

Cooper’s personal trajectory includes a career as the first Black trolley car driver in Philadelphia, PA, and later becoming a leading figure in the union, The Washington Post reports. However, his original aspirations were to become an attorney. Although he was unable to achieve his dream job, he recently checked another milestone off of his list.

Growing up, his single mother worked as a housekeeper and would pay off Cooper’s school tuition until she no longer had the financial means by his senior year of high school at Storer College in Harpers Ferry, WV. Cooper persuaded his mother to live with his family in Philadelphia and shifted his focus to supporting his mother. Cooper took a position at a women’s apparel store before securing a position as a city trolly car operator in 1945.

“She worked so hard, and it all became so difficult that I just decided it would be best to give up continuing at the school,” Cooper said, according to The Washington Post.

Cooper had a positive outlook on his career path and his journey would eventually lead him to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s Local 234 union, where he also became president then later vice president of the International Transport Workers Union in New York City in 1980. Despite his success, Cooper could not escape the desire to obtain his high school diploma.

Earns Honorary High school Diploma

A dream come true, Cooper received the surprise of a lifetime after his family held a graduation ceremony at Hyatt Regency in Jersey City on March 19.

The idea was birthed after a visit to Cooper’s origins at Harpers Ferry alongside his stepdaughter Marion Beckerink and her husband Rod Beckerink in 2018.

The family worked alongside Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the Jefferson School District to host a graduation ceremony. Cooper was greeted by Jefferson County School superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson-Learn, who presented him with an honorary high school diploma while he sported a burgundy cap and gown. What’s more, Cooper was accompanied by family members through a virtual ceremony where he also heard speeches from Storer College Alumni Association and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park representatives.

“I never imagined that anything like this could happen,” said Cooper, according to the Washington Post.

Congratulations, Merrill Pittman Cooper!