“I never imagined that anything like this could happen,” Cooper shared about his diploma.
It is never too late to chase your dreams, and after waiting more than 80 years, Merrill Pittman Cooper finally received his high school diploma.
The man from New Jersey was unable to graduate during the 1930s because his single mother could not afford to pay his high school tuition fee. He had to drop out but he received his diploma on March 19, 2022, The Washington Post reported.
Cooper, 101, of Union, New Jersey, was one of the first Black trolley car drivers in Philadelphia and was a union leader in the city. The only thing lacking in his long, successful career was a high school diploma. The man was forced to drop out of school in 1938 after his junior year at Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
Storer College was established in 1865 to serve newly freed slaves in the wake of the Civil War, according to the US National Park Service. According to a news release from Jefferson County Schools, Cooper studied college preparatory courses in Latin, biology, history, English, and mathematics at Storer College.
Cooper’s mother Nancy Washington moved to Philadelphia so she could be near family members, according to WJLA-TV. “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.
Online records show that Cooper was born on February 9, 1921, in Kearneysville, West Virginia. After leaving high school, Cooper took a job with Victory Cleaners And Dyers Co., in Philadelphia. He also worked at a women’s apparel store, then was hired in 1945 as a city trolley car operator.
The man eventually went on to become secretary-treasurer, and later vice president and president, for Transport Workers Union Local 234. He helped integrate trolley operators, and when those vehicles were phased out years later, Cooper became a bus driver.
In 2018, when Cooper visited his former high school, he expressed regret about not graduating, according to the Jefferson County Schools. “As time went on, I thought it was probably too late, so I put it behind me and made the best of the situation,” Cooper said. “I got so involved in working and making a living that my dreams went out the window.”
It wasn't just Cooper who wanted his dream to come true, his relatives wanted the same, too. They reached out to Jefferson County school officials, who worked with the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Storer College National Alumni Association, and the West Virginia Department of Education, to honor Cooper.
“Jefferson County Schools is committed to helping every student, young or old, fulfill their dreams,” Jefferson County Schools superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson-Learn said in a statement. “For Mr. Cooper, that meant receiving a high school diploma. We are honored to help make that dream a reality.”
As for Cooper, he is beyond elated to have his dream finally come true.
“I never imagined that anything like this could happen,” Cooper shared about his diploma. “I can’t think of a happier day. Even though it took me a while, I’m really happy to finally have it.”
Cover Image Source: Facebook | Jefferson County Schools WV