This Latino Just Became the University of Southern California's Oldest Graduate

This Latino Just Became the University of Southern California's Oldest Graduate

On Friday, Alfonso Gonzales, 96, made University of California history by becoming the oldest person ever to graduate from the institution.

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The Latino man, a World War II veteran, received a bachelor’s of science in zoology almost 70 years after he first started attending USC. In fact, the university doesn’t even offer a zoology degree anymore, though it made an exception for Gonzales.

Back in 1953, a young Gonzales was supposed to graduate, but he skipped out on his commencement because he needed to work. Decades later, when the man’s family asked to see his diploma, they learned that Gonzales was actually one credit short.

The man decided he needed to head back to college.

"He just said, 'I'll do whatever USC says I need to do to get my degree,'" Mario Gonzales, the man’s nephew, told USC.

That he did. Gonzales enrolled in a course customized for him through the USC Davis School of Gerontology. It was an independent study on autobiographies. Unlike back in 1947, the man had video assignments along with his readings and senior thesis paper. But not everything changed. Gonzales went to class in the same leather school bag he wore almost seven decades ago.

"Alfonso Gonzales serves as a wonderful inspiration to everyone who believes it is never too late to pursue education," Dani Byrd, interim dean of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, said.

For Gonzales, returning to USC and completing his degree was just something that needed to be done.

"I enjoyed coming to USC, and I enjoyed the atmosphere of knowledge," he added. "Knowledge is intrinsic, and that can never be taken away from you."

Gonzales sat among 17,000 graduating students and even received a mention from the USC President C. L. Max Nikias during commencement.

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"Like a true Trojan, he was determined to finish what he had begun. So today, at the age of 96, he becomes the oldest graduate in USC history," Nikias said.