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Weber State student, 79 and a TikToker, nontraditional ‘in every sense of the word’

By Tim Vandenack - | Mar 22, 2023
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Sharon Barber is pictured at Weber State University on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. At 79, Barber has attracted millions of followers on TikTok, where she provides inspiration and documents her life as a “senior” college student under the name grandmagreat.
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Sharon Barber participates in a class at Weber State University on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. At 79, Barber has attracted millions of followers on TikTok where she provides inspiration and documents her life as a “senior” college student under the name grandmagreat.

OGDEN -- She's known as "grandmagreat," she's creating buzz on TikTok and, at the age of 79, she's studying for a bachelor's degree at Weber State University in Ogden.

And even if she spent four decades as a working mom, helping raise a family of five kids, don't call Sharon Barber conventional.

"I'm a nontraditional student in every sense of the word," said Barber, grandmother to 16 and great-grandmother to nine. "When I first started classes, I was kind of an anomaly. I got a few strange looks. But I decided I'm going to go in there like any other student, with a positive attitude. Now I'm feeling like I'm in my element."

The Weber State media relations team profiled Barber, noting her distinctive background compared to the typical college student at the school and her social media popularity. "Among the thousands of seniors finishing their last semester at Weber State University this spring, another kind of senior is relaunching her educational journey -- and gaining millions of followers in the process," the profile reads.

Indeed, Barber, who lives in Davis County, stands out.

She was featured on a CBS Evening News segment earlier this month given her unconventional age as a student and her social media prowess. Barber's @grandmagreat TikTok profile has 2.3 million followers, offering upbeat and uplifting observations on her classroom exploits and, more generally, life.

"Regardless of what you're feeling right now, regardless of what people are telling you, I want to remind you that you are strong enough to handle your challenges," she says in one TikTok video. "You are wise enough to find solutions to your problems. You are capable enough to do whatever needs to be done."

According to Weber State spokesperson Bryan Magaña, Barber has been attending Weber State on and off since 2015, "taking breaks to focus on health, both her own and her husband's." She's almost got her associate degree and will be pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing.

Beyond academics, though, Magaña -- who wrote the Barber profile -- noted her warm persona.

"With social media, it can be really hard to discern what's real and who's genuine, but I'm here to tell you, Sharon is exactly the person you see on TikTok -- positive, caring and, when it comes to her studies, steadfast," Magaña said. "She truly loves people and wants to see them succeed."

Barber's motto is "I can do hard things" -- emblazoned on cups, shirts and more that she markets via the web -- and her can-do spirit permeates her outlook.

"It doesn't matter how old you are. Just do your best," she told CBS.

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