Darin's Point of No Return

I’m a little late to this, but if there’s one thing I learned from this story, it’s that being late to the party isn’t always a bad thing.

Let’s talk about 65-year-old Twyanna Williams of Philadelphia. You know, the “City of Brotherly Love,” “The Cradle of Liberty,” “The City That Loves You Back” and “The City of Somewhat Questionable Pretzels Sold at Traffic Lights and Street Corners.”

I might have added that last one on my own. I… well… ate a lot of questionable pretzels during my time living in Philadelphia. There were also some 2:30 a.m. cheesesteaks I tended to regret the next morning, a few roast pork sandwiches that could have been...

But I digress. Let’s get back to the star of the show.

Williams, a grandmother of four, according to a story on Today.com, dropped out of school when she was 15 so she could help her mother pay the bills after her parents got divorced. She went on to have two kids of her own and lead a productive life, working as a medical assistant at various local hospitals, according to 6abc.com, but there was another thought consistently gnawing at her over the years.

“That was always in the back of my head, to get a diploma,” she said.

In early 2020, after the world was put in a collective “Time Out” to try to slow down the spread of COVID-19, Williams returned to school through the City’s Educational Optics Program (EOP) — an effort to get some of the city’s adults an education that they might have missed out on in their youth.

“It was good timing for me, because you couldn’t go out, couldn’t go anywhere,” she said.

“I was like, ‘This is a good chance to pass the time away.’ I’m retired. I’m 65, I’m not working anymore. I’m on a fixed income. So I was like, let me go back to school. This is my time to go back to school, get my diploma.”

So, while much of the world was spending their “bunker time” watching trashy tiger people on Netflix, building domino labyrinths for TikTok or trying to figure out how many pounds they could pile on without actually exploding, this retired grandmother of four decided to keep the Self Improvement Express on the tracks. She chose to be a shining example — both for her family and herself.

Last month, Williams earned that diploma at South Philadelphia High School. On its own merits, this would be a remarkable story to fill the pride reserves of her family for generations, right? She has shown both her children and grandchildren that the only limitations in life are the ones we put on ourselves.

Well, and height. There isn’t much we can do about our own height. Or, you know, skin color or... you get the point. In terms of personal elevation, we often set our own limitations.

But, wait. There’s more.

Not only did this inspirational woman put in the effort to achieve her goals and to never stop working on improving herself, but she did it at a high level. Such a high level, in fact, that she was named valedictorian of her class.

“Oh, my goodness, I was overwhelmed,” she told Today.com. “I was so ecstatic and excited and couldn’t believe that I did that. I made it that far? I was really excited. It was exciting for me and I felt important. I felt special.”

You should feel special, madam. You’re awesome.

She did this because it was something she wanted to do for herself, and that’s admirable in its own right. She had told 6abc.com that one of her inspirations for taking this on had been all the times she had her heart filled with pride through the achievements of others.

“Going to all my grandkids’ graduations from high school, seeing my daughter graduate. Just going to multiple graduations,” she explained.

Is there a better reason to do something than to honor yourself, partly because of the pride you gained from watching your children and grandchildren doing the same thing?

We all should be “working on ourselves.” Be it what we put in our bodies, or the exercise we get, or the books we read, or the company we maintain around us, improving ourselves should never stop being a goal simply because we’re retired. Or busy. Or... lazy.

Plus, others are always watching, right?

“It shows you it’s never too late to learn,” said Cameo John, with the Education Options Program. “And when there’s an opportunity, to take advantage.”

“She’s a hero, and I’ve told her before,” said African American history teacher Williams Sax. “We need heroes, and we need our stories told.”

Several years ago, I broke my foot and was feeling pretty down about it. An old Marine buddy of mine sent me a video of a young Marine who had lost his leg in combat and was now participating in triathlons. “What’s your excuse again?” he asked me.

Point taken.

And as we see what Twyanna Williams recently accomplished, I’ll pose the same question to you.

What’s your excuse again?

Executive Editor

Darin is a native of Washington, D.C, and studied journalism at Temple University. He is a combat-veteran Marine, and has worked as a reporter and editor throughout the country. He is married and has one daughter, who doubles as his harshest critic.