September 2010
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95-Year-Old Finally Receives Depression-Deferred Diploma

Earlene Morris with the “Happy Graduation” bear given to her by her great-granddaughter to celebrate her high school graduation at 95 years old.

 

Earlene Morris shares wisdom with her fellow Falkville HS graduates

In a lovely country home five miles from where she was born and raised, a recent 95-year-old high school graduate happily visited and shared her inspiring story.

Comfortably seated in her living room, Earlene Morris hugs a Happy Graduation Bear, and her eyes light up as she explained the sweet gift was from her great-granddaughter.

A beautiful Bible Morris received during graduation ceremonies rests on a side table. Not one but two diplomas with the dates 1933 and 2010 spark admiration when brought into the room.

As a strong woman who has achieved a life-long dream despite the Great Depression, has proudly farmed alongside the men, is known for her desserts, is a gardener who shares the fruits of her labor with neighbors, is an active member within her community and church, is a family member cherished by three generations and is a firm believer in faith, Morris has plenty of wisdom for the modern generation.

Morris’s powerful message contains almost a century’s worth of wisdom.

Morris said even though the Great Depression presented difficult times for many people, she and her family were blessed and did not know they had it hard. She described a wonderful childhood spent on a fairly-sizeable family farm.

During an era of hardship, Morris counted her blessings of having a good roof over her head, plenty to eat, the privilege to attend school and a family who abounded with love.

 

Earlene Morris received two diplomas at her graduation ceremony, the long-awaited 1933 diploma and one from 2010.

Even at a young age, Morris enjoyed the outdoors, farm life and tending to chores by her father’s side.

In her early teens, Morris experienced the loss of a parent. She and her older sister worked as a team to manage the house and farm, and cope.

While Morris saw to farm duties, her sister kept up the housework. Morris, known for her own remarkable pies, still raves over her eldest sibling’s prowess in the kitchen.

Both girls showered their baby sister with love and understanding, and made sure she was never at a loss for attention. The youngest sister carried an endearing childhood name well into her adult years.

For the most part of 1933, Morris was a carefree high school girl partaking in sports looking forward to her senior play and graduation. Around Christmastime, a semester before graduation, Morris and her classmates received the news their school would have to close down because of a lack of funding.

The Great Depression hit North Alabama hard and education was one of many areas to suffer.

Her school allowed the seniors to hold the play before it closed. The much-anticipated senior play was a bittersweet homage and farewell to peaceful, cherished days spent learning and socializing during school hours.

Morris married while the school was closed. When the school reopened, it did not readmit her because she was a wife.

Another obstacle besides her married status stood in the way. The proximity between the school and her house would have been too great for issued transportation to pick her up or for her to walk.

Morris farmed her entire married life. She and her husband planted corn, cotton and soybean crops. She fondly reminisced about pitching hay bales onto the truck alongside her husband.

Shelby Morris, Morris’s daughter-in-law, was shocked when she recently discovered, in all those years, Morris had never received her diploma. Upon hearing the story, Shelby made a point to help Morris fulfill a life-long goal.

Falkville High School recognized Morris as an honorary member of the 2010 class. The high school prepared two diplomas, the long awaited 1933 diploma and a 2010 diploma.

On graduation day, Morris marched into the gym with students who paid a special tribute to her. Seventy-seven years after her interrupted senior year, she accepted her diplomas in the presence of friends, family and inspired fans.

"She is an inspiration and a blessing in our life," Shelby said.

National news stations and publications caught wind of her remarkable story and captured the special occasion through their coverage.

Morris spoke to the seniors, and shared how her father used to drive the school bus, what her life was like when she was their age and advice on embarking on a new chapter in their lives.

Morris told the seniors to advance their education as far as they could. She said to never lose hope or forget dreams that seem impossible because they never knew what could happen.

Shelby said the seniors listened to Morris with respect and interest, and she was touched how they included her mother-in-law in their graduation ceremonies.

"It was a beautiful gesture from the seniors at Falkville," Shelby said.

Morris, who turned 96 in August, reminded a younger generation of a wise adage she has adhered to throughout her life: "Never, never give up."

Jade Currid is an intern with Cooperative Farming News.