Bethel Park Resident Receives Long Overdue College Diploma at Age 90
On April 27, 2014, John C. Downs proudly stood as a member of the University of Pittsburgh’s 2014 graduating class. At age 90, John gladly donned the traditional cap and gown to accept his college diploma.
A father of five and a grandfather of 21, John was drafted by the Army after finishing high school. He is a World War II veteran, and one of the first veterans to make ample use of the GI Bill back in 1946 when he enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh to seek a degree in history.
After four years of classes, homework and finals, John thought he earned his degree, but a letter from Pitt notifying him of his eligibility to graduate went overlooked so John never actually walked at graduation or received his diploma. John went on to work in sales and met the woman he would later call his wife, JoAnne DuScheid. Throughout his career, John’s interest in history remained, even without a diploma.
Earlier this year, as John’s 90th birthday neared, two of his five daughters took a walk down memory lane and went through their father’s various memorabilia over the years for a birthday scrapbook in his honor. It was then that the two women stumbled upon John’s college transcripts and the letter notifying him of his eligibility to graduate, dated 1950.
“If there is a moral to this story, it’s keep your stuff. I think Dad kept more of his things than Mom did,” Dianne Lynch, one of John’s daughters, said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
When John’s daughters brought the overlooked diploma to the university’s attention, Pitt was pleased to award their oldest undergraduate with the well-deserved history degree John had earned 64 years ago. Prior to walking at graduation, John was honored with a luncheon at the University Club where he was outfitted in Pitt memorabilia and swag.
Nearly three dozen of John’s family cheered for him, the first graduate of Pitt’s class of 2014, as he accepted his diploma at the Peterson Events Center on April 27. One of John’s grandsons is a freshman at Pitt this year and plans to wear his grandfather’s cap and gown when he graduates.
Today, John and his wife JoAnne call Bethel Park in Bethel Park, Penn., home. At this senior independent living community, intellectual stimulation is an important part of residents’ daily lives. Brainteasers, spelling bees and puzzles keep residents on their toes and their brains sharp.
“Hearing that John’s family found this letter and that he would be accepting his diploma as a member of the class of 2014 was quite exciting news,” said Erin Schwartz, enrichment coordinator for Bethel Park. “At Holiday Retirement, we encourage our residents to remain intellectually active, and John was a prime example of this.”
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