Sunday, May 13, 2012

janitor and classics scholar

I just read an article I hope will be widely shared:  Ivy League school janitor graduates with honors

Gac Filipaj is the kind of person who really impresses me.  He would be worth knowing - and what an interesting person he must be with such a varied background.  A longer version of his story would be a good read.

It might also inspire some who fear that the education they hope for is out of reach.  I think of people both in the US and here in Haiti who have a long, hard road ahead of them if they hope to stay in school.  One or two classes at a time means a great many years even when tuition can be found.  I think of people I know in the US who would like to go to college or to return after many years away.  I think of mothers with small children studying amidst chaos or in the wee hours, late at night or pre-dawn. I think of others I know here in Haiti who got a late start and are in grade school or middle school as adults.  They, too, impress me.

As an aside, I'm also glad to see that Columbia offers classics to its non-tradional cohort as well.  I remember looking up philosophy and religion degrees available to part-time non-traditional students and discovering that, even in Boston, such things were nearly impossible to find.   I remember hearing about difficulties in the sciences, also, from one in a similar situation.  I wonder if the universities here are as flexibly organized as the grade schools and high schools seem to be in terms of older students.

 An excerpt from the article linked above:

 NEW YORK — For years, Gac Filipaj mopped floors, cleaned toilets and took out trash at Columbia University.

A refugee from war-torn Yugoslavia, he eked out a living working for the Ivy League school. But Sunday was payback time: The 52-year-old janitor donned a cap and gown to graduate with a bachelor's degree in classics.

As a Columbia employee, he didn't have to pay for the classes he took. His favorite subject was the Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca, the janitor said during a break from his work at Lerner Hall, the student union building he cleans.

"I love Seneca's letters because they're written in the spirit in which I was educated in my family — not to look for fame and fortune, but to have a simple, honest, honorable life," he said.

...he cheerfully described encounters with surprised younger students who wonder why their classmate is cleaning up after them.

"They say, 'Aren't you...?'" he said with a grin.

His ambition is to get a master's degree, maybe even a Ph.D., in Roman and Greek classics. Someday, he hopes to become a teacher, while translating his favorite classics into Albanian.

For now, he's trying to get "a better job," maybe as supervisor of custodians or something similar, at Columbia if possible.

Just imagine if we all had Mr. Filipaj's tenacity, humility, work ethic, and thirst for learning for its own sake... What would the world be like?

Some fine university needs to give this man a full scholarship for graduate work. They can't do better. 

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