Black Excellence: This Grandmother-Granddaughter Duo Just Graduated College Together
Tennessee State University

Theresa Lyles, 68, has 15 grandchildren, but after crossing the stage to receive her bachelor’s degree alongside her 22-year-old granddaughter Zuri Lyles, the two now share a special bond.

Theresa enrolled in Tennessee State University back in 1967 but dropped out three years later to take care of her growing family. Nearly forty years later, her granddaughter followed in her footsteps to pursue her degree in health information management, but the road hasn’t been easy.

After Theresa returned to TSU a year ago, tragedy struck when her daughter, Zuri’s mom, suddenly passed away. The loss had a devastating effect on both women.

“That hit us so hard that I almost dropped out because I was struggling and my grandmother went through a depression,” Zuri said. “But we kept encouraging each other. Through it all, we started working harder and did everything we needed to get the job done.”

Their perseverance worked. When Theresa and Zuri graduated together, they became the first grandmother-granddaughter in TSU history to do so.


Though Theresa always dreamt of completing her degree, she never imagined she’d share this experience with one of her grandchildren.

“I never contemplated this,” Theresa said when asked if she ever thought about graduating with Zuri. “Who knew that when I started back then that I would be graduating at the same time as she did. Nobody but God.”

While earning her degree is a major accomplishment, for Theresa, graduating with her granddaughter makes it feel even better.

“I always wanted to come back, but just never had the chance to do it,” Theresa said. “I am glad I did and it’s even better that I am doing it with my granddaughter. We encouraged each other. It was tough, but we had to tunnel through.”