Merrill Pittman Cooper from Jefferson County, West Virginia has become a major inspiration for millions around the world for pushing through regardless of his age to fulfill his dream of an education.
Way back between 1934 to 1938, Cooper who was a student at Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, which admits newly freed slaves during the Civil War but was forced to drop out during his senior year when his family relocated to Philadelphia due to financial reasons. His mother worked as a housekeeper and finances were tight.
Although over the years Cooper who had nursed the dream of becoming an attorney but gave that up, had built an accomplished career in the transportation industry, as one of the first Black trolley car drivers in Philadelphia and a leading figure in the union, he still wasn’t fulfilled as he longed to bag his diploma.
“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,” he said.
He took a job at a women’s apparel store in Philadelphia to help pay the bills, then was hired in 1945 as a city trolley car operator, he said.
“It was tough when I first started,” said Cooper, remembering the racism he endured. “I wouldn’t want to repeat some of the things people said to me when they saw me operating the trolley. We had to have the National Guard on board to keep the peace.”
“As time went on, I thought it was probably too late, so I put it behind me and made the best of the situation,” said Cooper,
“I got so involved in working and making a living that my dreams went out the window,” he said.
Burdened, he decided to tell his family about it and they lent their support. Today, he is one happy man having achieved his dream, he was honored with a special ceremony and diploma on March 19.
“Jefferson County Schools is committed to helping every student, young or old, fulfill their dreams,” JCS superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson-Learn said, according to WBALTV. “For Mr. Cooper, that meant receiving a high school diploma. We are honored to help make that dream a reality.”
“I can’t think of a happier day,” said Cooper, who now displays his framed diploma on his bedroom dresser.
“Even though it took me awhile, I’m really happy to finally have it,” he said.