darlene mullins

How Darlene Mullins Graduated From College 55 Years After She Started


Darlene with husband John Mullins

One of the principles that Darlene Mullins always taught her children and grand children is that they must finish what they started. She could not, however, encourage them to do so without leading by example herself.

Mullins decided that the best example she could set was to graduate from  Tennessee State University, 55 years after being first enrolled there. 

When she first attended TSU in 1962, the grandmother of four was a track star on the rise, preparing to participate in the 1964 Olympic Games.

She stated,

“Wilma Rudolph was my idol and I was well on my way.”

Love has a way of showing up where ever and whenever it chooses to, however, and as fate would have it, she met and fell in love with John Mullins, whom she first spotted “in the stands” during practices and training.

So deep was Mullins in the throes of her feelings for her future husband that her track coach gave her an ultimatum: she was to choose between his track team and her boyfriend.

Needless to say, Mullins chose her boyfriend.

When John got a job in Dallas, Mullins moved with him, and once there, the two got married and started their new life together. Though her heart was still set on finishing school, Mullins focused for the time being on becoming an entrepreneur, and eventually became the owner of a salon and spa. During this time, she became pregnant twice.

“Something kept nagging at me,” she said. “I always told my my children to make sure they finish what they started and I kind of felt it was time to live up to my own advice.”

When the kids grew up and one of her aunts passed away, Mullins asked her husband to take her back to where they had first met. Regarding his wife’s decision, John stated,

“She gave up everything for me, so now it was my time to follow her.”

The pair moved back to Nashville in July 2013 so that Mullins could pick up where she left off on her degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in African studies and communications.

She quickly put on the hat of the modern student, learning to register for her classes online and communicating with classmates who were much younger. These classmates developed a warm affection for her, calling her ‘Ms. D’,’ Mama,’ ‘Nana’ and ‘Gramma’.

While at school, Mullins sometimes had to take up to 20 credit hours per semester, but she persevered: within four years, she completed her degree, and will graduate summa cum laude. She is also a member of three honor societies including Phi Kappa Phi for “those with GPAs higher than 3.75.”

“My graduation from college, for me, confirms that i completed what I started more than 50 years ago,” said Mullins. “I am happy.”

Mullins is living proof that anyone can finish any positive thing they start, and that there is no such thing as being too old to go after your dreams.

By” Danielle Dixon

Follow her on Twitter: @tooprettydani


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