When Vivian Cunningham graduated from Samford University in early May, her story — the story of a 78-year-old grandmother who didn’t give up on her dream of an education — spread across the U.S.
And May 28, she got three special gifts while appearing on NBC’s Today Show during a live segment with Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager.
First, Cunningham unwrapped a laptop given by Best Buy — her first laptop, she said. The show’s hosts told her she was going to need it because of the second gift — Samford had announced they would pay all of her tuition and fees when she decided to pursue her graduate degree.
And finally, Kotb and Hager announced that Samford had established a new scholarship in her name — the Vivian Cunningham Leadership Scholarship.
The scholarship will help other students who exhibit characteristics of leadership, determination and perseverance to pursue their dreams of a college education.
When Cunningham was younger, she tried to go to school on and off, but she was a single mother with two small children. Over the years, she slowly worked on an associate’s degree at Virginia College with help from a reimbursement program provided by her employer, Alabama Power.
But Cunningham wanted “more knowledge,” she said. So she enrolled in night classes at Samford.
“I had gone so long and went through certain struggles, I just wanted that bachelor’s,” she said. “I was just glad that the Lord let me be strong.”
Her children supported her, as did her 95-year-old mother, who attended the graduation service and said she was so happy she lived to see that moment. So many people from across Cunningham’s life were celebrating.
Bryan Gill, director of university assessment and professional studies and Cunningham’s adviser, said for faculty members and advisers, “when you think about all the years you’ve helped that student, the amount of pride — it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Cunningham offered this advice to anyone with a dream — “Go for it. If you have a dream, pursue your dream. Don’t let anyone stop you.”