70-year-old earns her high school degree

Her cords in place, Hermelinda Sporea is ready to graduate from high school with honors - more than five decades after she started.

"There's no reason not to show up in school - if you have the ability to do it - go for it," Sporea said.

Growing up in southwest Detroit, Hermelinda's father died when she was a toddler - she had to drop out of high school and work at a grocery store to help support her family.

Eventually, she got married - had five children - went to beauty school and opened her own salon in Warren. She enjoyed a successful career and life - but something was missing.

"I always wanted that diploma - that was my dream - that diploma - I always wanted my education," she said.  

Hermelinda tried to go back to school three times as an adult but it wasn't until a few years ago when her daughter was working in community education at Utica schools - that she signed up - and stayed with it...

"She was always worried about her grades and her attendance. She was an excellent student - so it's just been a pleasure watching her grow and learn, just like watching one of my own kids," said Elizabeth Sancen.

"Hermelinda really has a drive - she wanted to succeed - she wanted to graduate," said EJ Wajeeh, director of community education.  "She wanted to show everyone you put your mind to it."

And you can do it - but it wasn't easy, she said.

"I didn't understand the math and I just looked at everyone, I'm thinking, how am I going to do this - and i just broke down crying," said Hermelinda.

She was challenged by the math, the technology - the pandemic - but still - she persisted. She earned a spot in the National Adult Education Honor Society - she'll even be giving a speech at her graduation in June.

So what's next for Hermelinda - we asked - are you going to go on to college? She said maybe she'll get her associates degree - she's not doing anything else.

"I think I  would like to study the brain - if I was younger," she said. "I don't know how much time I have left on this earth. I think I would want to be a brain surgeon."

Instead, she says - she's happy to be able to help her grandchildren with their homework - there are 17 of them, ranging in age from eight months to 19 years of age.

"They're so excited-  so proud of me," she said. "They can't get enough of me right now - 'Oh we see you on TV, we're so proud of you, grandma!'"