Man graduates with college degree 52 years in the making

Published: May. 6, 2023 at 1:07 PM CDT
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ORONO, Maine (WABI/Gray News) - One 2023 University of Maine graduate began his collegiate journey well before the rest of the graduating class was born.

John Cyrus is 70 years old and has earned an undergraduate degree in microbiology.

“I’m so excited,” Cyrus said. “I’m going to actually get that diploma. What’s kind of cool, too, is my oldest granddaughter graduates from Lawrence this year.”

Cyrus’s journey to get here saw plenty of starts and stops. He was set to attend Rutgers University in 1971, but a serious car crash left him unable to attend.

“My atlas bone had fractured,” Cyrus said. “I should have been dead.”

When he recovered, he was drafted into the Vietnam War and served as an Air Force lab tech. By 1976, he was just nine credits away from graduating, but then other circumstances led him to drop out.

“I had a lab accident, came down with mono and had to drop out,” Cyrus said. “Well, I never got around to getting back.”

After a career spent in labs and working at a paper mill, Cyrus retired in 2012 and needed something to do.

“I got to thinking, I’d like to go back,” Cyrus said. “I’ve got time now, why don’t I go back to school? Being back in the lab, I mean, the lab has always been my first love.”

One of his classmates remarked that his passion for science was what brought him back.

“I love being a problem solver and doing things like that,” Cyrus said.

He’s certainly made an impression on his younger classmates.

“John is an interesting guy,” another classmate, graduate student Nicholas Leclerc, said. “He’s a very nice guy. He just keeps on going, he’s really driven. He loves what he’s doing. And it really shows just in how he acts and how he’s enthusiastic about what he’s doing in our lab.”

Cyrus’s academic journey isn’t stopping with his undergraduate degree.

“I’ve been accepted to grad school here,” Cyrus said. “So, I’m working for my Ph.D. after this, which I’ll have probably when I’m 75.”

Cyrus also provided advice for his fellow graduating class, telling them the “find the time, make the time.”

“Work and stuff is always there, just be able to go out and enjoy life, enjoy the world around you, experience some of the beauty. Go out there and live,” he said.