Skip to comments.Columbia University janitor cleans up with bachelor's degree
Posted on 05/14/2012 3:20:56 AM PDT by bjorn14
NEW YORK For years, Gac Filipaj mopped floors, cleaned toilets and took out the trash at Columbia University.
A refugee from war-torn Yugoslavia, he eked out a living at the Ivy League school. But Sunday was payback time: The 52-year-old janitor donned a cap and gown to graduate with a bachelor's degree in classics.
As a Columbia employee, his classes were free. His favorite subject was the Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca, he said during a break from his work at Lerner Hall, the student union building he cleans.
"I love Seneca's letters because they're written in the spirit in which I was educated in my family: not to look for fame and fortune, but to have a simple, honest, honorable life," he said.
His graduation with honors capped a dozen years of study, including readings in ancient Latin and Greek.
"This is a man with great pride, whether he's doing custodial work or academics," said Peter Awn, dean of Columbia's School of General Studies and professor of Islamic studies. "He is immensely humble and grateful, but he's one individual who makes his own future."
Filipaj, now an American citizen, was accepted at Columbia after learning English. His mother tongue is Albanian.
(Excerpt) Read more at latimes.com ...
Indeed: A Bachelors Degree in the Classics should get him out of the toilets.
To finish his degree is an amazing accomplishment and we should not be looking down at him. Unfortunately he pursued a degree that unless the college decides to make him a professor, his only other option will to be stay on as a janitor - a highly educated janitor, but a janitor none the less.
Good for him!
Dude.. he was a janitor. I give the guy kudos no matter what his degree. What’s your degree in??
AMEN to him.
Exactly. I’m glad he got a degree. But since his classes were FREE it might have been a better idea to get a degree in something that would get him a better job than being a janitor. Now he will be a janitor with a degree in a useless subject.
A degree in the “classics”?! Oh well. At least he actually works. Otherwise, I’d say we have a future OWS on our hands. He must like his janitor job a lot.
“Now, his ambition is to get a master’s degree, maybe even a doctorate, in Roman and Greek classics. He hopes to become a teacher, while translating his favorite classics into Albanian.”
You need to read the article.
The article is incorrect in one way. It says he got his degree for free. That is not entirely true. He had to declare every class he took as regular income at the rate Columbia would have charged a cash paying student. He paid Social Security and Medicare at a minimum, and probably some local, state and federal income tax as well.
There isn’t much of a call for employees with a Classics degree, but... He now has a good command of a few languages, a strong work ethic, American citizenship and a college degree. Even if he stays at Columbia, he should be moved up to supervisor/management in the very near future.
To me, he sounds like a perfect candidate to open his own business and become one of the one percent.
LOL I have no degree, except in the school of hard knocks.
I think it’s great that this guy earned a degree, but I also think he should have gotten it in some subject that would get him out of the toilets.
I don’t see a great job demand for Bachelors Degrees in the Classics.
I wish the guy the best.
Why? Never judge a man by the profession he chooses or the money in his pocket........
It's obvious that Mr. Filipaj derives his happiness from less materialistic things.
Yeah.. I have 4 degrees.. doesn’t mean much.. life’s a bitch. I give the guy credit!!
The 52-year-old janitor donned a cap and gown to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in classics.
You are 52 years old you are getting a free education and you choose a degree in classics?
Okay so you can now stop cleaning toilets and maybe manage a McDonalds!
I love his attitude. He wants to live a life that is humble and honorable. He takes pride in his profession. I respect that a lot.
Why hateful against a college education?? Naysayer..
Naw,we’d rather make moronic comments instead!
Well done, Mr. Filipaj.
I hope that you are able to fulfill your dreams of scholarship and passing this knowledge on to future generations.
Probably the only useful and worthy graduate of Columbia in years.
Beyond that, if every American was as familiar with the classics as our Framers were, our nation would not be headed for certain economic and societal suicide.
As for cleaning toilets and drudge labor Americans no longer do, check out the bio and works of Eric Hoffer.
The article states that he intends to earn a Master’s degree and teach. However, I would like to state that there is nothing wrong with being a janitor. When I used to look up to Bill Cosby (before I knew he was a racist, political hack) I remember hearing him say to a college graduating class, “Don’t ever believe you know more than the janitor.” And I always thought that was great advice. And, I don’t believe this man is a “future OWSer”. He is 52, almost finished law school in his native country,and has continuously worked as a janitor here in the U.S. Kudos to him! I am a “mature student” and he is an inspiration to me.
Having a degree, period, is the key to many jobs (or used to be). Granted that higher paying slots might go to professional degrees, but, hey. the vast majority of grads never work in their fields anyway. Finally, a lot of liberal arts degrees are pretty useless to begin with given the leftist inculcation they are designed to contain. Knowledge in the classics, Latin, Greek and his background of humility, respect for freedom and a sane world view should serve him (and society) better than 99% of ALL grads - professional or not.
What I like best about this graduate, is that he earned his degree, but it doesn’t sound like he feels the world owes him a six-figure income. His expectations are commensurate with the degree. This attitude is the complete opposite of many of the OWS crowd. Plus, he worked within the system to graduate with what sounds like little, or no loan debt. He’s in a much better position to now pursue his graduate studies.
Never thought I’d see achieving an Ivy League Classics degree being denigrated on FR.
As a Columbia employee, his classes were free.”
Amazing...that would be an interesting strategy for someone. Get a job there, and get that benefit rather than paying or borrowing the tuition.
Columbia’s classics department is actually outstanding, and isn’t the cesspool that most others are. It has some great traditional classics scholarship.
That said...this isn’t a career move for him. But I’d reckon he knows that.
I love his attitude. He wants to live a life that is humble and honorable. He takes pride in his profession. I respect that a lot.”
Incidentally, if you think about some of the authors he encountered in the classics program, and you read what he said, this is not entirely surprising. And I agree. It is admirable.
Note: I did have a maid job one summer out at a big YMCA camp in Colorado. We worked hard, but also had time to enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park. This also reminds me that one of the ladies who works at the Joann's near me got her PhD recently. I think she still likes her job cutting fabric.
Re: Eric Hoffa.
Why scorn quotes around the word “classics”? Back when the point of getting a university education was universally understood as becoming educated, not getting job credentials (they’re universities, not polytechnics or trade schools), Classics was one of the great majors: you read foundational written works of our civilization in the original Greek and Latin. Why do you think the Founders wrote the Federalist Papers under a Latin pseudonym?
Why scorn quotes around the word classics?
...because the difference between our founding Fathers and today’s midget brain, Marxist college student is light years.
“”Why? Never judge a man by the profession he chooses or the money in his pocket.......””
People sometimes look down on me because I work outside doing some nasty stuff everyday. BUT....I haven’t had a real job in 30 years, I make a ton more money than these so called educated folks and I take three months off every year. I have had many idiots with a fancy degree work for me over the years.
I would agree with those who identify a liberal arts degree as unmarketable at least for now. But what i really like about this story is the attitude. We should all be life long learners.
As an individual who has a B.S. degree from the early 80s, I just this semester took my first community college class to learn what I thought was impossible for me, the subject of algebra. I spent 46 hours in the classroom, 30 hours on-line and somewhere around 90 hours in homework/book study and review. What might be an easy A for some on FR for me turned out to be a well earned B. I have nothing but a smile ear to ear and next week will start intermediate algebra. This whole concept of actually learning and enjoying math would have been laughable one year ago.
Set goals and be a life long learner.
Not true. Scholarships are not considered taxable income to the extent that they pay for tuition, books, etc. Anything that covers other things, like room and board, is taxable, but it doesn't sound like he had anything like that.
I doubt our refugee from Albania is a Marxist — folks from former Communist countries tend to be immune. And the soft-minded folks you decry don’t major in Classics: “What? I’ve got to learn to read two languages, besides the Spanish I took in high school, and translate dozens of pages a week? No way, dude. I’ll major in Education [or fill-in-affirmative-action-beneficiary-descriptor-here Studies].”
Why the scorn and abject derision directed toward a janitor? Do you hold yourself as someone who is superior to a janitor? If so, God forbid that you have a life crisis that leaves you without your current job and where you have to take a “less than optimum” job. Your lack of self-esteem will land you in the toilet.
I just gave guidance to a friend of mine who is totally miserable in her current job as a paralegal. That is her background but for a couple of years, due to a lack of good positions in that field in her living location, she worked as a dog groomer and was happy. She then was offered a job back in the legal field, took it and hates it. She wants to go back to grooming dogs but is afraid that friends and family will think that she’s crazy and “doing work that is beneath her”. I advised her that it’s better to be a happy and contented dog groomer than it is to be a miserable paralegal as long as she can pay her bills. In fact, I told her to go get some more experience and then open her own grooming studio!
That’s horse and buggy thinking.
What can you do with a major in Classics? Anything! The Classics major, like other majors in Columbia and Barnard colleges, is not designed to be a pre-professional training, and while some of our students go on to become professional Classicists, most use the education they receive to help them succeed in a diverse range of fields unconnected with their major. Like students who major in other subjects, Classics majors become doctors, farmers, lawyers, writers, executives, chefs, teachers, social workers, politicians, entrepreneurs, and anything else they choose.
The importance of an undergraduate education is primarily to train a students mind to cope with the challenges it will meet later, and only secondarily to fill that mind with any particular set of facts. Since all major programs at Barnard and Columbia have been designed to provide similar benefits, we believe that students should choose their fields of study based on their interests. For many people, the undergraduate years offer the only chance they ever have to explore the subjects which really fascinate them, and we hope that every student at Columbia and Barnard will take full advantage of that opportunity.
Having said that, we believe that the particular training offered by the Classics program will be more useful than most others when it comes to success later in life. Classics is a difficult subject, and students who have mastered Latin and Greek will find other intellectual challenges much less daunting than people who have never learned anything quite so difficult. Classics graduates know how to absorb large quantities of information quickly, retain it, and use it rapidly. They know how to analyse and interpret, to pay attention to details without losing track of the big picture, and to relate a work or event to its context. They have the kind of thorough understanding of grammar that only a training in Latin and Greek can give, and that understanding is reflected in the high quality of their English writing. Having been taught for four years in small classes by professors who know them as individuals and want them to succeed, they have received an education tailored to their own needs and goals. They also have the ability to read some of the worlds greatest literature in its original form, and at times when the task of earning a living seems tedious and uninspiring, many Classics graduates are very glad to have access to the riches of ancient literature, as well as to the many later works which cannot be fully appreciated without a substantial background in the ancient world. In addition, on a crasser level, Classics degrees are highly respected by law schools, medical schools, and employers.
I also worked as a janitor during my college years....
Very good post, thank you.
My son will be starting next year at an Ivy League school, double-majoring in classics and engineering. The engineering is to earn a living. The classics is to be well-educated.
In looking at classics programs at various schools in the United States, it was welcome relief to see that many programs (including the one in which he is enrolled) have not been too influenced by political correctness. Yes, there is the obligatory elective course in “woman in the classical period,” but mostly, it appears to be good stuff.
As you say, lots of folks don't want to have to learn two foreign languages to pursue a degree, so that acts to filter out a lot OWS-types from this field. My son's own classics teachers from high school included a retired Marine officer who is currently finishing his Ph.D., a Ph.D. in eastern Christian studies in the early Church, and a devout, orthodox Catholic.
With six years of Latin and four years of Greek, many of his college application packages included essays on Greek and Latin topics, and he submitted one essay to one school entirely in Latin. Every one of the schools that accepted him made special note of their appreciation of his interest and relative expertise in the field, and his intention to double-major.
What many folks may not realize is that a classics degree is considered a "classic" (pun intended) undergraduate degree for those who wish to go to graduate school, especially those who wish to obtain professional degrees (including in business, law and medicine), or advanced degrees in other fields.
——. I remember clearly graduating with my BSME and one of our professors told us that everything we had learned in four years wasn’t very valuable to us...but we had learned a way to approach and solve a problem.——
I wish someone told me that before I got my BSME. But I’ve come to the same conclusion.
Peter Kreeft, a preeminent advocate of Socratic logic and Catholic theology, has said that students who major in the hard sciences are better suited to studying classic philosophers, like Aristotle and Aquinas,because they believe in, and have the habit of searching for, objective truth.
If modern liberal arts teaches anything, it is skepticism.
But a truly classical education is worth its weight in gold.
The daughter of a life long friend graduated yesterday from St. John’s in Annapolis. Among the classics, she learned geometry from Euclid in Greek and calculus from Sir Isaac Newton.
To the point, I’m convinced she learned how to learn.
Never thought Id see achieving an Ivy League Classics degree being denigrated on FR.
Too many insecure, nonproductve, jealous folks here.
I may be wrong here--I often am--but I do suspect that a majority of these Freepers who condemn certain students' majors--have never seen the inside of a college classroom.
I base this upon the complete ignorance of their posts. They believe that unless your major is in engineering or some such "practical" subject, you are worthless in the job market, notwithstanding the fact that a college education confers upon students the ability to think rationally, write well, read comprehensively, and the overall "polish" that one receives, all valuable skills and personal presentation that a good college education confers upon an individual.
All the attributes above explain why the well-to-do traders and other personnel on Wall Street may well have majored in English, British literature, etc.
No, they think of college as a form of trade school and unless the student studies something they can relate to outside of welding and plumbing (and it seems that "engineering" is the "other" that they know of that's taught in college), it's no damn good.
I don’t have scorn for the man. I love to see people improve themselves.
I just believe if you are going to college and study you need to study something that will help you in making a living.
I don’t feel the Classics will do that.
It isn’t something I would choose to help me earn a good living.Maybe there IS a big demand in this country for people with a Bachelors degree in the Classics. If so good for him.