After 50-year college gap, grandmother heading toward graduation

Dec 13, 2021


Bessie Jones


A 69-year-old woman from Columbia expects to graduate from Claflin University in spring 2021 alongside her granddaughter.  

As Bessie Jones finished her last exam at the library on Claflin’s campus, she walked out the double doors and paused. 

At 69, balance is an issue for Jones, and staring at the stairs below the double doors was daunting.  

“Getting old sucks,” she said later.  

That was part of her motivation to go back to school: a sense that some people lose their way as they age.

“You have got to keep using your brain,” Jones said, and keep tackling new obstacles.  

This spring, she will walk through Claflin’s gymnasium again, this time for her graduation. Her granddaughter Malia Jones, who will graduate from Claflin on the same day, plans to join her.  

Bessie Jones started her college career in 1967 at Benedict College in Columbia. As with many young women at the time, her education was cut short when she fell in love, got married and started a family.  

After decades of family life, raising children and working at this and that, she decided she needed more of a challenge.  

It was time to end her 50-year college gap.  

She applied to Claflin in fall 2019 despite the challenges — she learned that her high school transcript, stored in a state office, had long since decayed. However, she found her high school diploma stored in a box. Jones had doubts that she would be accepted.  

The grandmother was so nervous walking onto the campus, not knowing her way. She was taken by surprise when she saw the attire of today’s college students. She referred to their shorts as “short-shorts” and believes that leggings are considered underwear.  

Lessons were a shock to Jones as well. She never stopped writing, so that came easy. Tests, no.  

She struggled with statistics, dropping the class one semester, then trying again successfully later. With the help of her grandson, she navigated new math methods along with newer technology. Jones now prefers to use PowerPoint and has since regained her sense of studying and memorization.  

Jones has a lot of plans: She wants to write about aging gracefully, starting a mentoring program, and helping elderly people find new hobbies.  

Bessie Jones has been an inspiration to her granddaughter, Malia, as well as the graduating students at Claflin. She has made an impact.  



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