Thursday, May 17, 2012

From ABC News. From Custodian to Graduate.

A Yugoslavian-born custodian at New York's Columbia University will be trading in his uniform for a cap and gown this weekend when hegraduates with honors after working on his degree for 12 years.

Gac Filipaj, 52, will graduate with a bachelor's degree in classics with honors from Columbia's School of General Studies.

"I'm proud and I'm extremely happy," Filipaj told ABC News.

It's been a long road for Filipaj who fled to the United States from war-torn Yugoslavia in 1992, leaving behind his parents and siblings on a family farm in Montenegro.

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  1. NPR's "Tell Me More" also had a lovely interview with him. Best moment: when the host asked him about job prospects for a classics degree, and he said something along the lines of "you Americans always think in dollars and cents; I learn for the sake of learning" (that's a very rough paraphrase).

    I also note that he took some time to finish, and, even then, had to give up a good deal of sleep to do it. He also appears to have no family responsibilities (or at least no wife or children at home). Somehow the model of "working your way through school" many of our students envision (and, to be fair, many of our universities promote) doesn't assume quite the same level expenditure of time and effort.

    And finally, apropros of recent conversations: I suspect Columbia's janitors are unionized (if anybody knows how to check, I'd be curious to know if I'm right about that), and I'm 99% certain that their janitorial services have not, as is the case at my university, been contracted out. Among the many other disadvantages of that arrangement for the workers involved (including, at my school, loss of access to our state's quite good health and retirement benefits), it means that they're no longer eligible for the tuition benefit that faculty and staff share, and that staff, especially, often make very good use of.

  2. Ohhhhh to have a student who wants to learn for the sake of learning.

  3. And the other top-trending Tell Me More education story is. . ."Why So Many Ph.D.s are on Food Stamps," which riffs off a Chronicle piece that I'm pretty sure we already discussed here. At least Filipaj, who mentions going on for an M.A., already has a job that seems to keep him in a style with which he is satisfied.

  4. Look how clean and neat he is. I'll bet he's the best janitor they have. He has a great sense of pride, SO lacking in so many of our students. Rather than false self-esteem given for nothing, he has genuine self-esteem, because he richly earned it.

  5. I love this story, and I would love to share it with my students, but I know that they wouldn't know what to do with it. *sigh* "Pearls before swine."


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