90-year-old Savannah State University student dies weeks before start


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) – Savannah State University held its 200th commencement ceremony today, with more than 300 graduates crossing the stage to graduate.

But the Class of 2022 did so without its oldest member, Charles Woodley, who recently died at the age of 90.

The WTOC spoke with a friend and tutor of Woodley who helped him graduate.

Before his death last month, Charles Woodley was working towards his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies.

“We honor the life and legacy of this fallen tiger, and applaud his determination to complete his education, which he began in 1956 at Savannah State College,” SSU President Kimberly Ballard-Washington said during of today’s opening.

But at the time, Woodley’s education was put on hold.

“He was devoted to his family. And that’s why he couldn’t finish his studies, because in the middle of his studies, his parents got sick and he came back to be able to take care of them, and started working and things like that “, explained Jessenia Davis Fernandez.

Decades later, Jessenia Davis Fernandez helped Woodley achieve his goal by becoming one of Woodely’s tutors. More than that, however, they became friends.

“The week he found out he met his requirements…he went to the hospital the following week. So I believe he held on as long as he did to get the last thing he wanted to achieve in his life,” Davis Fernandez said.

She explained, “If you die before you graduate, you still graduate. But Mr. Woodley not only earned a degree, he met its requirements. He actually graduated. So it was very gratifying to see that and to be part of that process.

Woodley’s wife accepted his degree on his behalf, and the University left its seat empty, with Woodley’s cap and gown draped over it in his memory.

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