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Weber State senior with 2.3 million TikTok followers calls them her grandchildren

Posted at 10:44 AM, Mar 21, 2023

OGDEN, Utah — One non-traditional Weber State University student isn’t letting her age stop her from going back to school. On top of going after her degree, she dedicates her free time to inspiring her millions of followers on TikTok — where she has over 2 million followers, whom she calls her "grandchildren."

Sharon Barber, 79, will receive her associate’s degree at WSU this spring, and millions of followers have shared her journey back to school after taking a 40-year break to work and raise five children.

As a college senior, she now has 16 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

“I’m a nontraditional student in every sense of the word,” Barber said. “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.”

After taking some college classes years ago, Barber spent four decades in sales and substitute teaching to start her own publishing company, but her dream of a college degree never left her.

She intends to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in creative writing at WSU after receiving her associate’s degree.

Barber is already a writer, having written hundreds of poems and gotten a start on several books, but she wanted "more expertise and instruction." WSU was a natural choice, as two of her children graduated from there.

“When you haven’t been to school for 40 years, everything is hard,” she said. “But I have just met the most amazing, kind, considerate, helpful students that have helped me on this journey.”

Barber had some trepidation about how her fellow students would receive her, not only because she's old enough to be their grandmother, but because she has spasmodic dysphonia, which causes her voice to shake.

But to overcome that fear, she took a public speaking class.

“I thought, if I nip this in the bud, I’ll be able to do anything,” she said. “I met many friends in that class, and I got an A.”

She is beloved as an inspirational student not only at WSU, but by her TikTok followers, who know her as “grandmagreat.”

@grandmagreat

“Everyone needs someone to motivate them or help them to motivate themselves,” she explained.

Barber joined TikTok two and a half years ago after her grandchildren encouraged her to inspire others. She now has 2.3 million followers and 29.2 million likes.

“You have courage that you’re not even aware of,” she says in one of her videos.

She provides encouraging messages and snippets of campus life as a “senior” at Weber State, along with a cooking segment called “Simply Delicious,” where she livestreams from her kitchen.

Barber is best known for her motto, “I can do hard things,” to encourage others who face personal challenges.

She ends most of her videos looking directly into the camera and saying, “I love you.”

“Love is an energy that you can put out there in the universe,” Barber said. “I believe that social media is a means of doing that. And I hope that ‘I love you’ resonates with whoever’s needing that.”

Everything from her water bottle to her jewelry are gifts from fans she now calls friends. Even some of her classmates recognize her.

“It usually ends with a hug,” said Barber.