Elizabeth Barker Johnson, a 99-year-old World War II veteran, finally accepted her college diploma seven decades after she completed her undergraduate career.
According to the Today show, Johnson walked across the stage during
the Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) 2019 commencement ceremony on May 10. She graduated in 1949, but she already had a job as a teacher and was unable to make arrangments to attend her own graduation.
“I couldn’t get anyone to substitute for me back then, so I had to miss my graduation. It was terrible,” the veteran said. “I just can’t believe this is happening. I really think I’m dreaming.”
She was surprised with the opportunity to walk in the ceremony by WSSU’s ROTC program during her 99th birthday party this month.
Johnson joined the U.S. Army in 1943; she was a member of the 6888th
Central Postal Directory Battalion of the Women’s Army Corps, the only all-Black female battalion to serve overseas during WWII.
After returning home from the war, she enrolled in college to become a teacher. She continued to make history, becoming the first woman to enroll on a GI bill at the university, which was then Winston-Salem Teachers College.
Johnson taught public school for 40 years before retiring, even after that she still volunteered and tutored for another 10.
“From serving her country during World War II to impacting the lives of hundreds of students as a classroom teacher in North Carolina and Virginia, Elizabeth Barker Johnson is the embodiment of Winston-Salem State’s motto, ‘Enter to Learn. Depart to Serve,’” WSSU Chancellor Elwood Robinson said, according to WECT News. “We are inspired by her and excited to give her the opportunity, 70 years later, to finally walk across the stage at commencement.”
Watch the emotional and monumental moment the great-grandmother accepted her degree.
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Christina Santi is a news and culture writer for EBONY.com. Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, she considers herself a well-read, not so traditional feminist with a heavy interest in music, fashion and pop culture. Christina currently lives in New York City, where she refers to her Cuban & Jamaican descent often while writing about her experiences as a first-generation Afro-Latinx in America. She also devotes time writing personalized reading material for her tutees and turning ideas into words for streetwear brand, PUER By Noel Bronson.