Instead of picking up garbage in the hallways, Yugoslavian-born Gac Filipaj, 52, will collecting his diploma at Columbia University in New York today when he graduates with honors after working on his bachelor’s degree for 12 years.
“I am extremely pleased and happy to see the results of my efforts pay off after all of this time,” the classics major told ABC News.
Filipaj fled to the United States from war-torn Yugoslavia in 1992, leaving behind his parents and siblings on a family farm in Montenegro.
He spoke virtually no English when he arrived in New York, but he had a passion to finish the education he began as a part-time student at Law College in Belgrade. He settled in Bronx, started taking English classes at Theodore Roosevelt High School and, after he was told by a friend that Columbia University was the best school in the city, took a job there as a custodian.
After studying English for six years, he was proficient enough to begin taking classes there part-time. He attended class in the mornings and worked an eight-hour shift in the afternoon before commuting home at night to the Bronx to study.
The university provides tuition exemption for employees for a number of courses per semester. But there are no exemptions from the school’s demanding requirements.
“They’re in class with all of the other highly talented undergraduates,” Peter Awn, dean of the School of General Studies, told ABCNews.com.
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