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52-year-old janitor graduates from Ivy league school with honors

posted 14 May 2012, 05:43 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 14 May 2012, 05:44 ]

USA-Janitor Graduation -- 52-year-old janitor graduates from Ivy league school with honors

CCTV BEIJING - After 12 years of balancing studies with his full-time job, a Columbia University janitor finally walked across the stage on Sunday as he graduated with honors from the Ivy League school.

Gac Filipaj, now 52 years old, donned a cap and gown to graduate from the prestigious New York City-based institute with a bachelor's degree in classics.

For Filipaj, the degree comes after years of late nights studying in his Bronx apartment, where he opened his books after his night shift as a cleaner on campus. Before exam time or to finish a paper, he would stay up all night, then go to class in the morning and then to work.

"I had to come to work here, then go back home and I arrive home after midnight and I studied during the night," Filipaj said. "All the time like that, constantly, except the summer time, when I did day classes."

In 1992, Filipaj, an ethnic Albanian, left Montenegro, then a Yugoslav republic facing a brutal civil war, for New York City, where his uncle offered him shelter while he worked at a restaurant.

"The first barrier is the language, because I didn't speak the language before," said Filipaj, who could only speak Albanian when he first arrived.

Filipaj later found a job as a janitor at Columbia University. As a school employee, he was eligible for the university's tuition-exemption program that allowed him to take classes for free.

"And then it's not that easy to find a job. But I got very lucky that I worked here, I've been working here. So the job gave me a tuition exemption, otherwise I don't know if I would be able to (finish my studies)," Filipaj added.

Part of his pay still goes back to his family in Montenegro.

Filipaj will be back at work after Wednesday's university-wide commencement, and he said he hopes to enroll in graduate school.

"I would like to stay working here to find a better job here and to go to school here. If I can't make that, then I will look for other options," he said.

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