GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Rosa Griffin is on a storied journey, and Thursday night, her journey - at least this part - came to an end.
It took Griffin 50 years to get her college cap and gown, and Thursday night she wore them as she walked across the stage, a graduate of GTCC.
"I can see the light at the tunnel," she said. "I see that little spark down there now."
She says her new outfit is a milestone on her journey. As she zips her gown, puts on her cap, and sees the tassel waving above her right eye, she's reminded of all it took for her to get to this point - including getting used to her new classmates.
"You've got all these young individuals sitting in the classroom, and I'm looking around like 'God, I'm their grandmother!'" she exclaimed.
But, Griffin didn't let her age stop her. At 71, she's focused on the journey, despite life's obstacles.
"There were times in my life, as I got older, I felt God wasn't there with me," Griffin said. "Because I was going through too many trials and tribulations. There were dark times where I wanted to give up school, and I said 'I can't do this, I can't do this.'"
Her struggle to get an education started before her time at GTCC. The daughter of sharecroppers, Griffin grew up in Pitt County before moving to New York and meeting her husband. She enrolled at Shaw University in 1963, but then, life got in the way, and she was forced to put her journey on hold.
Five years ago, she decided it was time to continue her journey.
"She started, and it' was real rough," said Griffin's friend, Phyllis Williams. "She said, 'I haven't done this,' and I said 'but you can do it - you can do it.' And, little by little she started doing it."
Griffin had been enrolled at Guilford College for a year before Williams gave her the idea to transfer to GTCC, where she's also an alum. The two have been walking buddies for years. Today, Williams says she's proud to see her friend cross the stage as a college graduate.
"She did it," Williams said. "She actually accomplished it - something that she thought, four years ago, she couldn't do."
Griffin credits another woman - and friend - Rita Sullivant, with helping her through this process. The two met at Guilford College when Griffin enrolled five years ago. Today, they're living through the journey together.
"I just think she has a very determined spirit," said Sullivant. "She struggled with a lot of things, but she was also good at a lot of things. So, this is very exciting. I can see her being Dr. Rosa down the road someday."
"If they saw that in me - even if I didn't see that - I knew I was going to go all the way," said Griffin.
Right now, "all the way" brings Griffin to the Greensboro Coliseum, where she'll walk across the stage Thursday night.
"I'll be walking into that Coliseum with my head held high," she said. "Nobody can take this joy from me, nobody can take what I've learned from me. God give it to me, and I'm taking it higher because I want to help someone else."
And, that's what the hard earned outfit really means to Griffin.
"This isn't about Rosa," she said. You can find that determination, 'this is what I want, this is where I want to go, this is what I want to be.' All that is about believing in yourself. Don't let anyone say you cannot."
And, the cap and gown aren't the end of her journey. They're just the beginning.
She graduated from GTCC with an associate degree, but she isn't stopping there. Griffin says the day she finished her final class at GTCC, she went straight to Guilford College and submitted an application.
She's now focused on the next milestone on her journey: a bachelor's degree.