'Grandma Shirley' to graduate from NCCU at age 76: 'I'm not a quitter'

Joel Brown Image
Saturday, December 9, 2023
76-year-old 'Grandma Shirley' to graduate NCCU
This great-great-grandmother has been impressing people with her resilience for years.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's another major milestone for a Raleigh great-grandmother whose perseverance through struggle is an inspiration.

ABC 11 first met Shirley Fuller when she graduated from Wake Tech at 70. Then came a devastating fire. Despite the setbacks, "Grandma Shirley" just keeps going.

Hours before the 76-year-old becomes the first person in her family to earn a 4-year college degree, she tried on her NC Central commencement regalia. Even her fingernails are done up in Eagle pride.

"Praise the Lord," Fuller exclaimed. "It means everything to me. Because my children know I'm not a quitter!"

This great-great-grandmother has been impressing people with her resilience for years. In May 2017, at age 70, she earned her Associate's Degree from Wake Tech.

At 70 years old, Shirley Fuller graduates at Wake Tech

It was one of the proudest moments of Fuller's life. Nine months later, came one of the worst.

An accidental fire at Fuller's Raleigh apartment building destroyed her home and four others. Nothing was left.

"I lost everything I owned, except one object. And that was my textbook from Wake Tech," Fuller said. "And I said to God, there is a reason that this textbook survived this fire."

The fire delayed Fuller's plans. But she never gave up.

"I struggled. I grieved. I cried. I raised hell with myself when I needed to. But we don't know what steps God has for us," she said.

Fuller struggled and recovered in life from drug addiction, depression, and sexual assault. Armed with her signed textbook, she earned a second Wake Tech degree and was accepted to Central to study for her Bachelor's in behavioral and social sciences -- with plans to open a recovery facility for women in addiction.

"I want to help other women who I know have been through worse situations than I did," said Fuller.

Nearing 80 years old, the woman her classmates lovingly called "Grandma Shirley" is not slowing down.

"And what you don't know is I'm going for my Master's," Fuller said with a laugh. But she's not kidding.

After she graduates Saturday from NC Central, Fuller plans to immediately start graduate work toward a Master's degree in public administration. She says she's going to be working to launch her non-profit recovery facility and working on her Masters at the same time.