A lot of college students wind up pulling “all-nighters” before their exams or finals, but Columbia University graduate Gac Filipaj had extra reasons for studying into the night.
Filipaj worked the 2:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift during his job as a janitor at Columbia.
ABC News reported that 52-year old Yugoslavian custodian Filipaj received a bachelor’s degree in classics with honors from Columbia’s School of General Studies on Sunday after working on it for 12 years. He said, “I proved that I have enough strength to finish what I started to do.”
Filipaj attended classes in the morning and then did his custodial work at 2:30. His boss Donald Schlosser said, “He was tenacious about keeping to his schedule and fulfilling his goal.”
Filipaj’s classes were free through a tuition-exemption program because he was an employee of Columbia. Filipaj left Montenegro in 1992 as he was about to be drafted into the Yugoslav army. He was accepted at Columbia after he learned English, and is now an American citizen.
"This is a man with great pride, whether he's doing custodial work or academics," Peter Awn, dean of Columbia's School of General Studies said, according to an Associated Press report in the Los Angeles Times. "He is immensely humble and grateful, but he makes his own future."
“I’d rather clean bathrooms for two or three more years and get my Masters, then make more money and get a better job,” Filipaj told CBS New York.. Sometimes I feel as if I don’t belong because of my age. But then I say, ‘Why not?’”
The New York Daily News pointed out that Filipaj didn’t own a laptop until last year and wrote his papers by hand before then. He also doesn’t have a television – or a cellphone.
He said he hopes to continue his education and earn his master's degree or doctorate in classics.