There are two stories here. One a friend sent me and the other I watched in person.
The first is a picture I took at Lincoln Center last week. I had to be in that neighborhood and didn’t know the NYU graduation was taklng place. As I walked by some of the graduates I saw a couple with their daughter. They were not speaking English but if you could measure their happiness at their daughter’s graduation it would be 11 on a scale of 10. I asked whether I could take their picture. the mother was shy and didn’t want her picture taken so I took a picture of the father and daughter.
The other story began when I got a letter from a classics professor in Florida who was a close friend of my cousin Joe, the horse racing writer who died a few years ago. She happened to mention in the letter that a janitor had graduated from Columbia after taking classics courses for 20 years. I found the following story on the internet.
“An immigrant from the former Yugoslavia who has worked as a janitor for Columbia University for two decades graduated Sunday with a bachelor’s degree in classics, with honors. Full time custodian Gac Filipaj took classes at the school for free, often studying late into the night after the end of his 2:30 to 11 p.m. shift, then taking classes in the morning. Yesterday all his hard work paid off, and he joined his fellow students at commencement ceremonies on the sunny Columbia quad, where he also received an honorary degree in making everyone else feel like a lazy, entitled bum.
“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 and professor of Islamic studies, told the Associated Press. “He is immensely humble and grateful, but he’s one individual who makes his own future.” Another thing about Filipaj? He doesn’t own a cell phone or a computer. At press time, it was unclear how he survives without Tweeting about his favorite Sunday night cable TV shows.
What’s next for Filipaj? He intends to pursue a master’s degree, and perhaps a Ph.D. in Roman and Greek classics. He’d also like a better job—like maybe custodial supervisor. In a post-graduation interview with the AP, Filipaj explained, “The richness is in me, in my heart and in my head, not in my pockets.” Once the interview was done, Filipaj went to do kegstands and smoke celebratory blunts with his fellow graduates “picked up a broom and dustpan and WENT BACK TO WORK.”