In a remarkable and heartwarming moment, Grace Lee McClure Smith finally had the chance to walk across the stage and accept her high school diploma after a staggering 79 years.
At the age of 16 in 1942, Smith made the difficult decision to leave Hazel Green High School in Alabama to marry her husband, Calvin B. Smith, who was soon deployed to serve in World War II.
Calvin passed away in 2005, just a few days before his 80th birthday, leaving Grace with memories of their enduring love and sacrifice. Despite not completing her high school education, Grace always held education in high regard. For over three decades, she dedicated herself to serving the Madison County School Systems as a bus driver. Tim Hall, a school official, expressed his admiration, saying, "She came back and for more than 30 years, she drove a school bus in Madison County, she served our students and got them safely to school and safely home for 30 years," as reported by CBS affiliate WHNT.
As a role model to countless children, Grace's granddaughter, Erin Wilson, shared, "She may not remember faces, but she will remember names and addresses of where she picked them up and dropped them off," according to People magazine. Her commitment to the students she transported left a lasting impact on their lives.
On June 2, 2021, a special ceremony was organized at Hazel Green, where Grace was bestowed with an honorary diploma, becoming Madison County's oldest high school graduate at the remarkable age of 94. While she may not have completed her degree, her decades of dedicated service to the school district were deemed more than worthy of receiving this well-deserved honor.
Joining the 302 fellow members of the class of 2021 who also received their diplomas that day, Grace now holds a place among them. Remarkably, she stands as a unique member of her class, boasting a loving family consisting of seven children, 16 grandchildren, and 26 great-grandchildren.
The heartfelt ceremony was organized by one of Grace's grandchildren and attended by esteemed officials from the school district, including Director of PR Tim Hall, Hazel Green principal Quinn Headen, and superintendent Allen Perkins.
Modestly, Grace expressed her disbelief, stating, "I feel like I don't deserve it. There's a lot more people that are much more deserving than me. I'm just doing my job, love it. I love most of it most of the time. Good times!" Yet, her unwavering dedication to her husband and the sacrifices she made for her family and community undoubtedly make her a deserving recipient of this honor.
While Grace may not fully realize the significance of her achievement, it is clear to all who know her that she is truly deserving. She selflessly put her pursuit of education on hold to support her spouse, who risked his life fighting against the Axis powers overseas. The opportunities she may have missed out on due to her lack of a diploma are immeasurable, but her resilience, love, and service have made an indelible impact on the lives she has touched.
Watch the wonderful video below: