Tampa grandmother on tap to graduate college, deliver commencement speech

Debra Morris, 60, is grandma to nine

TAMPA, Fla. - Debra Morris is 60 years old.  Instead of easing into retirement, she's working full-time and cramming for college finals.

"With the economic dive, I found myself without a job, and my daughter said to me, 'Well mom, you're always saying you wish you could go back to school. Go back to school!'" said Morris.

As a young woman, she worked and raised a family. Her children are grown now and she has nine grandkids. But after all those years, she couldn't help but think she'd missed out by never getting a college degree..

"I just felt there was something missing. I was hoping this would be the way to capture that experience--whatever it was that was missing, and short of lying on the beach in the Riviera, I've pretty much captured that!" Morris said.

Next week, she'll graduate with an associate's in business from Hillsborough Community College. She admits the journey hasn't been simple. Before starting school four years ago, she hadn't sat in a classroom in more than 30 years!

"Education was no longer pen, pencil, eraser and a piece of paper. It had gone to high tech and high tech is not my forte!" Morris said.

Now she navigates a laptop labeled "Nana" with ease. Morris credits fellow students and a campus support group with helping her conquer every challenge. Her nine grandkids are also a big inspiration. She wanted to live up to every piece of advice she's ever given them.

"We like to think we're the biggest, and the greatest, and the best but if you're not doing your best, you really aren't.  If you're not giving your best, you really aren't," said Morris.

Now she's got her cap and gown, and will not only graduate from HCC, but also deliver the commencement address. Her message is that it's never too late to chase your dreams.

"If  you have a goal that you always put off.  Don't wait. Tomorrow, we always hear it, we don't know where we are going to be.  So take advantage of today," Morris said.

Debra Morris isn't done following her dreams, either. She's been accepted to USF and plans to start her bachelor's degree in psychology this fall.

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