88-year-old man among class of 2017 college graduates

Here's why it took him 58 years to graduate
Posted at 11:43 AM, May 13, 2017

(CNN) -- Retired pastor Horace Sheffield kept the faith and received his diploma nearly six decades after first enrolling in a Georgia college.

The 88-year-old may have been the oldest graduate in Shorter University's class of 2017, but his youthful eagerness to finally earn his bachelor's degree left university officials, friends and his family in awe.

"This was one thing pop had not finished his whole life," his granddaughter Jill Brazier told CNN. "This was his drive to let us know you never give up on your dreams and that is the one thing he told the great grandchildren when he got that diploma."

Sheffield first enrolled at Shorter University in 1959, but later left before completing his degree because he had to take care of his family.

"I couldn't go to school and educate my kids at the same time," he told CNN after the commencement ceremony on May 5.

A milestone 58 years in the making

Affectionately known as "Pop" to friends and neighbors in his hometown of Barnesville, Georgia, he was married to Bernice Sheffield for 68 years before she died four years ago. Bernice had Alzheimer's and Horace committed those final years with her to making sure he reciprocated the love and support she showed him throughout the years.

"I resigned from my last ministry job to take care of her. I was by her side providing all her needs. She was the best pastor's wife," he said.

Sheffield had been in the ministry for 71 years before deciding to return to college. After Bernice's death, he began thinking about the next phase of his life.

An ad that touted free education and no tuition for senior citizens inspired him to finish what he had started decades ago. He enrolled in Shorter's online program two years ago and resumed his path to earning a bachelor's of degree in Christian studies with a minor in liberal arts.

"I was living on a fixed income and couldn't go back to school, but if I had no tuition I didn't see any reason why I couldn't go back," he told CNN.

Navigating campus life online

Sheffield completed his online degree with the help of his neighbor Amanda Brannock.

"She had mastered my handwriting. She would interpret it and put it in the computer. I couldn't have done it without her doing the computer work," he said.

Their bond started when Brannock moved to Georgia with her family and Sheffield led her and her family to the Christian faith.

Reflecting on their work process, Brannock said Sheffield would write everything longhand and she would type it into the computer.

Brannock describes her friend's achievement as "amazing."

"While the B.S. in Christian studies has been taught at our traditional campus for many years, the degree is relatively new to our online degree platform," Legare Price, Dean of Online Education at Shorter University, said in a statement to CNN. "Rev. Sheffield was one of our first students to enroll in the online degree."

Price said Sheffield's graduation is a remarkable achievement and that the university community is "incredibly proud of his commitment and hard work."

"If I can do it at 88, anybody else can do it," Sheffield says humbly.

Surrounded by family and friends who watched him graduate, Sheffield says he finally feels like he can "take a few minutes," after so many years of pursuing his goal to graduate from college.

Sheffield is currently the honorary senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Barnesville, Georgia.