Oldest graduating woman crosses stage in Alabama A&M history

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Most undergraduates cross the stage one time on their big day, but an 80-year-old woman stepped onto the stage twice for one degree. She made history at Alabama A&M’s fall 2019 commencement ceremony in Huntsville today.

Every graduate knows the feeling of dressing for graduation day.

“I can’t even express that feeling,” said Birmingham resident Donzella Washington, “to know that I’ve come this far.”

Washington broke barriers and graduated magna cum laude in her class.

“One of our undergrads is an 80-year-old,” said Her AAMU assistant registrar for operations Debra Green. “Her name is Miss Donzella Washington  and — oh my god — we are so excited to have her.”

Donzella is the oldest undergraduate to cross the stage at Alabama A&M. Her daughter, Kimberley, and family friend, Mia Malloy, was there to support Donzella.  “I wish my father could be here,” said Kimberley, to see her mother accept the presidential medallion–the first time she crossed the stage before the big moment. The school awarded it to her as a surprise gift.

“In 2010 my mom died,” said Donzella, “so that really put a damper on my studies, and then in 2011, my husband passed away. And he was so supportive of everything I did. He would not have dinner until I came home.”

Donzella had the experience of a social worker. She used to foster children for over 30 years.

“When I stuttered, it really affected my self-confidence,” said Donzella. She no longer stutters, but that and siblings delayed her education. “Two of them always let me know that I was the dumb one, so I really grew up feeling I was really dumb.”

But time and love erased the negativity. “We cannot let what others say about us, be us,” said Donzella.

“You know I love you,” said Kimberley to her mother.

“I really wanna inspire young people and adults who feel like their age has been a barrier,” said Donzella.

It’s the kind of feeling she can’t express.

What’s next for Donzella Washington? Crossing the stage two times wasn’t enough. She wants to continue working with children and perhaps pursue a master’s degree.

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