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Grandmother, grandson together walk across Austin Peay State University’s commencement stage

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Shirley West and her grandson, Bailey West, before commencement.

(Posted Aug. 6, 2021)

When Bailey West returned to Montgomery County to live with his grandparents, he didn’t know what the next steps in his life were going to be.

“His grandfather and I kept saying, ‘Well, why don’t you do this, maybe a trade school,’ and I said to him, ‘Bailey, you like to cook, what about doing culinary arts,’” recalled Bailey’s grandmother, Shirley West. “We’ve talked about it different times before about doing it, and he’d say, ‘I’ll do it if you go with me.’

“I thought, ‘This boy isn’t going to want to go to school with his old grandmother,’ so I said, ‘Sure, I’ll go with you,’ and he said, ‘OK!’”

And that’s what happened.

In the fall of 2019, Shirley, 69, of Woodlawn, Tennessee, went back to school to help her grandson, 25, earn his college degree.

The journey culminated on Friday afternoon when grandmother and grandson walked together across the commencement stage, each earning an Associate of Applied Science in Management Technology.

“Spending this time with him and making so many memories was a great reward for this grandmother,” Shirley said. “It has truly been a wonderful experience.”

‘I came out on the other side with my grandma’

The journey had its ups and downs. Bailey struggled, for example, to stay motivated toward the end of his classes, and Shirley helped him to push through.

“The journey with her made it that much better,” Bailey said. “The journey with her, I had to go above and beyond, I had to try to do better than her, which never happened.”

Shirley graduated magna cum laude with a 3.8 grade-point average.

“I did lose motivation a couple of times,” Bailey said. “It was hard, it wasn’t easy-going. This last semester, making sure everything was OK. But I came out on the other side with my grandma. We’ve been reflecting on that.”

Shirley knows she made a difference.

“I think there’s a few times he wished that grandma wasn’t around, but he would have quit if it hadn’t been for me,” she said. “He was trying to find his way, and I think now he has a focus, something he wants to do, and I’m very happy we were able to spend all this time together.”

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What’s next

Now that he has his degree, Bailey plans to become a certified culinarian.

“I’ve already worked in cooking since doing this, and it’s something I enjoy doing, so we figured it out,” Bailey said.

To which, Shirley said, “I’m not doing anything. I’m going to go back to being a grandmother. I’ve got eight grandkids, and I’m just praying that none of them say, ‘I’ll do this if you do it with me.’

“I’m too old to do that.”

Still, she hopes the journey she had with her grandson will help to motivate others to go to college, no matter their age.

“Hopefully, it will encourage others to realize that you are never too old to learn,” Shirley West said.

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