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101-year-old earns honorary high school diploma after dropping out in the 1930s

The honorary diploma was awarded to Mr. Cooper to celebrate his achievements at Storer College (which was a high school at the time) as a high school student from 1934 to 1938, and his subsequent successes. (Jefferson County Schools)

A centenarian from West Virginia has fulfilled a lifelong goal of becoming a high school graduate.

At the end of March, 101-year-old Merrill Pittman Cooper of Harpers Ferry, was awarded an honorary diploma from the school he attended as a teenager.

The document was presented to Cooper to celebrate his achievements at Storer College, which at one time was a high school. Cooper was a student there from 1934 to 1938.

Jefferson County Schools says that during Cooper’s time at Storer, he took college preparatory courses in Latin, biology, history, English and mathematics. While he hoped to go to college, “life circumstances intervened when he moved with his mother to Philadelphia for financial reasons” during his senior year in high school, according to a press announcement released by the district. At the time, he discontinued the coursework.

Cooper lived in Philadelphia for the next 50 years, where he worked in transportation and ultimately became a union vice president.

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Jefferson County Schools superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson-Learn, Harpers Ferry NHP superintendent Tyrone Brandyburg, and Storer College National Alumni Association president James Green, Jr. all came together last month to host a graduation ceremony

In 2018, Cooper visited the former Storer College campus, located at Harpers Ferry NHP, and expressed regret over never earning his high school diploma. After Cooper’s family members coordinated with NHP staff, efforts began in collaboration with local, regional and state entities to honor Mr. Cooper and his education at Storer.

Cooper was also honored for his work and life beyond campus.

Jefferson County Schools’ Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson-Learn, Harpers Ferry NHP Superintendent Tyrone Brandyburg and Storer College National Alumni Association President James Green, Jr. all came together last month and hosted a graduation ceremony for Cooper and his family.

“Jefferson County Schools is committed to helping every student, young or old, fulfill their dreams,” said Gibson. “For Mr. Cooper, that meant receiving a high school diploma. We are honored to help make that dream a reality.”

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