Born in Union Springs, Alabama, no one dared to invest in the education of Mary Hardway Walker, a young enslaved girl. After all, it was illegal!
By age 15, the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation offered freedom and opportunities she had always dreamed of - only not with the timing she had expected.
Having married and started a family before being able to attend school, Mary knew that her options were constrained by her lack of ability to read or write.
Still, she devoted herself to raising her children and supporting others in her community for most of her life. Then, in 1963 a whole new world opened up, as Mary took matters into her own hands.
At the age of 114, she enrolled in Chattanooga Area Literacy Movement (CALM) courses, taking one-hour classes two nights a week for over a year to learn the skills that had always been kept just out of reach all those years before.
Mary’s tenacity in spite of her senior age was rewarded with numerous accolades including a key to the city, visits from dignitaries, the honor of being named the nation’s oldest student, and even the high rise in which she called home being renamed to recognize her enduring legacy.
Her achievement reminds us all that it is never too late to accomplish that which others - whether because of race, gender, age, etc. - believe to be impossible for you.
With self-determination, you can achieve whatever you set your mind on!