Those are the first words that came to mind when Elaine Smith fully realized she would be graduating from The University of Alabama. On May 6 Smith will travel from her home in Foley to cross the stage and accept her bachelor’s degree — a feat she never thought was meant for her. Yet here she is, at age 77, doing just that.
“Our three daughters went to Alabama and our son went to Faulkner,” Smith said. “I never thought I’d be graduating from college and especially not doing it now.”
Smith, an interdisciplinary studies major who has always been drawn to literature, started her college career when she was 71 after some encouragement from her family.
“I started with classes at Coastal Alabama Community College and earned my associate’s degree,” she said. “And really, I was happy with that.” Then, while walking through the foyer at CACC an iconic UA image caught her eye.
“I saw Denny Chimes on a brochure and I had to immediately pick it up,” Smith said.
The brochure was for the New College LifeTrack program.
“I didn’t think much of it because, you know, I couldn’t just go off and live in a dorm,” she said. “But, my daughter encouraged me to try to do classes online. My husband even made me a nice little home office where I would do my work.”
Smith applied and was accepted. She began her college career at UA as a junior. “I was so excited and my family was, too. My husband would tell people he was a married to a junior in college.”
Smith hopes people realize that it’s never too late to achieve a dream, even if it comes later in life.
“I had always wanted to be a wife and mother and raise a family and I did that, but my goal was to get a college degree because I was the only one who didn’t have one,” Smith joked. She did attend a business school after high school, but soon after, she married at 19 and started her family.
“Then, when my family was raised and living their own lives, I figured it was time for me,” Smith said. “I’m just tickled to have had the opportunity.”
Smith will graduate summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA. She is part of Mortar Board honor society and was awarded the Alice Parker Award for Outstanding Work in Literature, Art and Society.
Her family may be her biggest cheerleaders, but Smith said this dream might never have happened without her UA support system.
“My teachers always replied quickly to every one of my emails,” she said. “That made a huge difference for me.”
Smith added that even though she was sitting behind a computer in her home and not in one of UA’s classrooms, her professors never made her feel like that was a disadvantage.
“They were the most engaged with their students,” she said. “I’ve absolutely never met teachers that were so helpful and concerned that you have everything you need to be successful in their class.”
Smith will be joined by her husband Lester and several family members when she proudly earns her degree from UA. Her 97-year-old mother-in-law Mae Smith, perhaps her most ardent supporter, will be cheering for her while watching the livestream, as will many other friends and family.
“I’ve always loved Bear Bryant. I was always drawn to UA,” she said. “I never ever imagined this. I’m just very, very excited. Pinch me.”