NPR logo Seizing The American Dream: From Janitor To Ivy-League Graduate

Seizing The American Dream: From Janitor To Ivy-League Graduate

Columbia University janitor Gac Filipaj give a thumbs up during the Columbia University School of General Studies graduation ceremony on Sunday. Jason DeCrow/AP hide caption

toggle caption Jason DeCrow/AP

Columbia University janitor Gac Filipaj give a thumbs up during the Columbia University School of General Studies graduation ceremony on Sunday.

Jason DeCrow/AP

There are few stories as sweet as that of Gac Filipaj. He's a 52-year-old refugee who emmigrated from a war-torn former Yugoslavia to work as a janitor at one of America's premiere universities.

It took him seven years to learn English and gain acceptance into Columbia, where he received free tuition because he's an employee. As the AP reports, he took classes in the morning, then worked 2:30-to-11 p.m as a "heavy cleaner," and when he got home after midnight he would hit the books.

Sunday, after 12-years of study, he received a bachelor's in classics and he graduated with honors.

"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, told the AP. "He is immensely humble and grateful, but he's one individual who makes his own future."

Congrats, Mr. Filipaj, who says his next move is a graduate degree.

Here's Al-Jazeera's report of his graduation:

YouTube

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.