88-year-old Georgia man graduates from college: 'I wanted that degree'

“He’s smart as a whip, I’m not even lying,” said his granddaughter Jill Brazier.

— -- Horace Sheffield of Barnesville, Georgia, completed a lifelong goal on Friday: to graduate college.

The 88-year-old, along with his tutor Amanda Brannock, walked across the stage to accept his diploma at Shorter University.

“He’s smart as a whip, I’m not even lying,” Sheffield’s granddaughter, Jill Brazier, told ABC News.

Sheffield went to Shorter University from 1960 to 1965, but he quit before graduating to help educate his daughters.

“I dropped out with 115 hours,” he recalled. “At that time a piece of paper on a wall didn’t mean that much to me. I had my education and my brain and my heart, and I put them all to good use. But 60 years later I wanted that degree.”

The determined senior earned his Bachelor of Science in Christian studies through online courses after reading an article in a magazine that seniors could attend college for free.

“I’m retired and living on fixed income, and I did not think I could go to college and pay tuition,” said Sheffield. “But when I saw this article that senior citizens could go to college for free, Shorter accepted me at no tuition. I paid a $200 graduation fee and that’s all I paid. I walked with a walker.”

He credits Brannock, who “walked beside me to make sure I didn’t trip over wires or something,” for being the only reason he was able pull off this accomplishment.

“She wrote out my assignments and told me what to do and she expected me to do it,” he said. “She expected me to make straight As and I did it. I wrote two papers a week and then had the test. I wrote it in long-hand and she typed it all up and put it into the computer. Without her I would not have this diploma today.”

Brannock, who knew Sheffield from church, called him “a sweetheart.” She took her own computer and printer to his house for him to use for classwork.

“I’m relieved because it was a lot of work,” she explained of his course load. “I lived with Horace more than I lived with my own family the last two years. We’ve kept each other going. He’s inspired me to keep going and I hope I inspired him to keep going. Graduation was one of the happiest days of my life. I cried like a baby. It was one of the most precious moments and I couldn’t have been more proud even if it was my own degree.”

Brannock does not have a degree yet herself, but Sheffield said the second she earns one he’ll be walking across the stage with her too.

“I was misguided my first time through college,” said Brannock. “I ended up with a bunch of hours and no degree and was out of financial aid. But I wanted to see him complete this goal first. I love learning, so it was nice for me to get a free education too. He’s insisting that he walk across the stage with me when I get to graduate.”

Sheffield said he’s “real excited” to finally have graduated.

“A man 88 years old don’t have an opportunity to walk across the stage many times in life,” he said with a laugh.

A local photographer, Donna Flournoy, came across Sheffield’s story on Facebook and offered to give the graduate a free photo shoot in his cap and gown.

“These are pictures we will cherish forever,” said Brazier. “This is a huge accomplishment for him. And something he wanted so bad. And for him to do it with all his family there was amazing. He walked across the stage and the crowd went crazy. It was in their gymnasium and as soon as they called his name everybody erupted and people were screaming and hollering. We were all in tears because we knew this was what he wanted.”