Classics Feel Good Story of the Day

From the Gothamist:

Columbia University sign in subway station in NYC

Columbia University sign in subway station in NYC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An immigrant from the former Yugoslavia who has worked as a janitor for Columbia University for 20 years has finally earned his bachelor’s degree in classics, with honors. The Daily News reports that while you were concerned with catching up on Boardwalk Empire and content to remain in the same, midlevel job because “the economy just isn’t right yet,” Gac Filipaj toiled day and night, first taking classes to learn English then courses in the classics department at the Ivy League university. “Only half my dream come true,” Filipaj says, with an earnestness that kills a million photos of cats drawn in steamed milk. “Today, one ought to have a master’s or a Ph.D.”

Filipaj took advantage of Columbia’s tuition benefit for its employees and took classes in the morning then cleaned the school from 2:30 to 11 p.m., hitting the books right around when you usually finished your last jalepeno popper and drained a BL Lime at trivia night at some bar whose name you’ll forget in 8 months. “He just loves what he’s learning,” dean of students Phil Mendoza says.

“I think I’m going to stay at Columbia,” Filipaj says of his future. The janitor took two days vacation to celebrate his achievement, which is the same amount of time you took off to “recuperate” from your eight-day trip to Cabo. “If I can get a job better than cleaning, good. If not, there is nothing shameful about that work.”

As for whether his story is unique, Filipaj seems sheepish.“If my story and the fact at this age I am graduating helps people to think about getting an education, it’s for a good cause.”

In a followup article in the same paper (which also includes a video interview) Filipaj notes:

Asked what the most difficult part of his academic and professional journey has been, Filipaj declines to mention the pressure of financially supporting his family back home while he betters himself with highly refined, esoteric knowledge, or the bizarre duality of cleaning bathrooms and studying while his classmates were playing Halo and overdrafting into their parents’ checking accounts. “The most difficult thing is ancient Greek—it’s just a killer! Latin is a little bit easier, at least for me.

… I can sympathize with a lot of that …


One thought on “Classics Feel Good Story of the Day

  1. I can relate to a lot of that, though I worked in admin, and only began to focus on the Classics in my post-grad work (one oughtn’t speak of 19th century thinkers without doing so).
    The scientist Michael Pupin, who also got a Classics degree at Columbia, albeit over a century ago, muses in his autobiography on the significance of our alma mater’s motto “Columbia in the City of New York”. I’d like to think that it is such confluence of ostensible antipodes (wireless Manhattan vs. red-figure vases) that affords pathways for the ancient to flourish in the modern context.

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