‘Do not start anything in life you do not finish.’: Elderly man graduates college with honors after 43-year hiatus

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“I have been waiting to say this until now.

Yesterday afternoon, I finished my last exam and my last essay was written and turned in.

On May 8, 2021, at 9 a.m., after 43 years, I will have finished my studies and will graduate college with a 3.8 GPA, cum laude honors, at UNCW.

I returned to college after leaving school in 1977 for a career with Lowe’s. It always bothered me when I was asked how far I made it in my education, and I would say a year and a half of college. So, in 2017 I registered at UNCW and took my first class in the summer session.

I noticed at my age I did not fit in and was looked at by the students differently.

I have never felt this uneasy in my life, so I had to find a way to fit in on campus. I knew my son, Hunter, had pledged a fraternity, so one Sunday afternoon that summer, I knocked on the door of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.

A nontraditional college student with the members of his fraternity
Courtesy of Phil McGee

They did not know what to think when I told them I wanted to pledge—I just wanted to fit in.

Liam Walsh was the president then, and he told me after my interview I could come in as a Legacy because of Hunter being a brother. I told him in front of the chapter I may come in as a Legacy, but when I leave I will be a Legend. I have done my best to live up to that promise.

I switched my major from environmental sciences to business and basically had to start all over. Throughout this quest, I worked full-time 40-60 hours and traveled an average of 900 miles a week. I spent many late nights in motel lobbies reading, studying, and finishing homework.

I had in-person on-campus classes as well as virtual classes and would spend hours at truck stops, on and off ramps on interstates, and in McDonald’s parking lots on my laptop attending classes.

This has been a Mount Everest for me, and with the support of Charlie, my family, and my friends, I have finally reached the summit. I love all of you very much!

I want to say to all of my friends and family: do not start anything in life you do not finish.

Hold your head up and plow through situations where you are nervous and uneasy.

And most of all, know when you are climbing your Mount Everest in life and the terrain gets steep and the oxygen gets thin, you can rely on the silent prayers people are offering up for you to give you the strength you need for the next step.”

An older college graduate in cap and gown
Courtesy of Phil McGee
An older college graduate in cap and gown by a bird statue
Courtesy of Phil McGee
An older college graduate in cap and gown by pillars
Courtesy of Phil McGee
A nontraditional college graduate wearing cap and gown
Courtesy of Phil McGee
An older college graduate by a rock labeled "Class of 2021"
Courtesy of Phil McGee

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Phil McGee. You can follow their journey on Facebook. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube  for our best videos.

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